Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Saturday, December 31, 2011

That's all there is: there isn't any more


English: A logo of the band "paradigm Shi...                                       Image via Wikipedia    This year, 2011, proved to be a most extraordinary one for me as an author.

I am sure that those of you who have followed its progress, in one way or another, as reader or author, have realized the changes that have taken place in the industry, this year, right under our noses. What is significant to note is that some of the shift was instigated, supported and promoted by a different set of people, for a change.

Rather than the powerful conglomerates affecting change, it has been the individual author, but much more importantly, the individual reader, to direct the way the publishing world has flowed. Authors on their own cannot - and will never be able to - cause or manoeuvre a paradigm shift the like of which we have witnessed since October 2010. Readers have flocked to the works of independent authors and small publishers like never before. Now, to determine which came first is a chicken / egg dilemma people are deciding for themselves. But something happened to book pricing this year. Something happened to the way readers read. Something happened to WHAT is being read, and something big enough happened to change bottom lines.

More able writers than I have addressed the shift and there are some very good blogs to be read that sum up 2011 in a masterful way.

Here, I am going to put down a few sentences on how my career has shifted, in just twelve or so months. My second novel was launched by BeWrite Books in March. In April and May, I started to independently publish my back list of short story collections, with the latest, Encore, coming out a few weeks ago. This has swelled my available titles to ten. But that's not all. In the middle of the year, BeWrite Books accepted my third novel, Camera Obscura, which will be launched in 2012. And I also released a number of short stories for quick reads at affordable prices.

What this has meant to sales of my titles must be seen to be believed. Royalties cheques from BeWrite have never been this good. Sales on Kindle and Createspace for my indie titles are also amazing. They cannot compare with some of the newsworthy hits and their authors who have made the headlines, but for me, they are nothing short of astounding. Not a day goes by without some sales happening somewhere on Earth. This - until this year - was the stuff of dreams for small-name authors, unagented and without the backing machine of a large corporation.

I end 2011 with much hope, and with wishes of the same for the many authors I have met along the way. Many have helped me to make decisions, and to formulated plans of attack, and without them I would still be floundering. Without naming them individually, they include colleagues on LinkedIn discussion groups, who have argued, advised, tried, tested and reviewed until they were blue in the face. Colleagues on ANZauthors, which comprises authors from the Antipodes with a wealth of experience, from which I benefit every day without fail. Colleagues on the much-maligned Kindle threads, whose humour and good nature showed me how to - and how not to - go about discussing my fiction. Individual bloggers who have interviewed and hosted me and my titles on their sites, introducing me to a host of new fans. Editors who have published me previously, in journals, anthologies and as publishers - they have participated and helped. The marvelous team at BeWrite Books, without whose innovation and far-sightedness, According to Luke and Death in Malta would never have seen the light of day.

I must also mention family, friends and those on my emailing list, who receive my missives and act upon them. They include old colleagues from places where I have taught, authors I have met along the way, academics I have worked with, struggling poets, childhood friends and supportive family members. The friends I have made through my children's schools and hobbies, their teachers... so many came to my signings, launches and bought my books. I do mention Robyn Varpins by name - she is the artist who painted a large number of icons and reverential works for my launch. Without her input, the launch would not have been half the wild success we enjoyed.

I doubt there will be another year like 2011. It's been impossibly hard work. I have written the equivalent of two novels in blogs, posts and comments, but it's been more than worth it. Although I do not measure success by numbers of book sales, it does count that I have never sold so many books before, in just twelve months. It is the stuff authors dream of. But it's over now - in the words of Ludwig Bemelmans, there isn't any more. We are all going to have to devise new ways to keep up with the changes, and new writing to supply the canny readers to whom we owe so much.

Thank you one and all - a last comment, perhaps decribing your year, would be most welcome.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Plus ça change ...

Novels in a Polish bookstore                                       Image via WikipediaAlthough things seem to change very rapidly in the publishing arena, little has altered in the reader's world, except the sheer volume of choice.

Examining the statistics seems amazing to those who know little about the machinations of book publishing. Who on earth is going to read all those millions of books? If one were to count the readers in any single country, one would not find enough to consume the enormous numbers of books being created by the day.

One would have to eliminate those too young to read or purchase books. Or those with financial restrictions that do not allow them to buy a cheap children's book. One must eliminate the illiterate. And remove those who simply do not read or buy books. A proportion of the population borrows from the libraries that are still standing. Some have not touched a book since school. Many chuck books out with childhood, like so many highchairs, strollers, nappies and bottles.

Reading is not for everyone. Although literacy levels continue to rise, they have little to do with whether that literacy applies to book purchasing - people read other material. They do not have to read books - there is enough material around that needs deciphering. The amount of reading one has to do in an interactive game, for example, is tantamount to a small novel.

I stood in Big W yesterday - a department store that carries everything, from hammers and nails to chocolate and dinner sets and toasters, shoes and fishing rods. I waited by an enormous dump bin crammed with cheap paperbacks and looked at the book section, crammed mainly with celebrity cookbooks, sporting biographies and bestselling novels by household name authors. The store buzzed with shoppers, but the book department was almost deserted. Already shrunk to a quarter of its previous size, and occupying floor space equivalent to a large lounge room, it was the only quiet spot in the store.

Interesting. I watched browsers (all female), who gravitated without fail to the colourful children's section.

The digital entertainment section buzzed. Dozens walked away with appliances as I watched. I lost count of the eReaders taken off the shelves, and an assistant promptly came to replenish the shelf with Kindles.

I realized that the sales predictions of the industry would apply mainly to online bookstores. Few were making their book purchases as I looked. In the entire shopping complex, two of the bookstores were no more, and the one left was pushed into a corner, and contained only three shoppers when I came up in the lift.

Different from other years? Marginally. I knew what was going on online - I have watched it all year, for a number of years now. Just because readers have shifted where they buy books does not mean they do it any differently. Even the fact that a large number of bought books remain unread stays the same.

The hardworking author might do well to examine what is happening. I leave the conclusion to them - whether they see the changes in quantity of available books - competition - as heartening or depressing depends on their ability to bring their books to the notice of readers, and the ability of their words to retain their attention.

Reading is alive and well - that is not the issue. It's the over supply that makes authors wonder where all this might go in the next five years or so.

What are YOUR predictions?
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Promotions and awards

It pays to promote - creators of some sort of product know that well. Authors find the need to promote their books an understandable task: it is necessary, yet can prove daunting, puzzling and demands a different kind of mindset. Finding like-minded authors, who see promotion the way you like to think of it, is not an easy task either. Sharing successes and woes is necessary in the new game that's opened up to independent authors and those who publish with small presses.

Publicity comes at a price, and that is time and trouble. But when one is unexpectedly awarded with a nomination, apart from the surprise that comes out of the blue, one is flattered, and made to feel glad. The message is getting out, and some are reading my blog almost as soon as it hits the ether. Thank you, Dan Nader, of Avoiding the Stairs - you have surprised and gladdened me with this nomination. I must say I display this bright green badge with pride. And joy. And gratitude.

It could not have come at a better time.

It comes with a set of instructions: I must nominate other blogs, and I must divulge seven things about myself as an author. Hm - not an easy thing to do, since what I know about myself is not exactly riveting or the sort of thing one can put in a blog with impunity. Let's have a try regardless:

1. I have a real knack for wrapping presents. I proved it several times this week.

2. I never wear necklaces - the only thing I hang around my neck are glasses.

3. I am a very slow reader, and rarely read more than a few pages at a time. The right-left eye movement sends me to sleep like nothing else can.

4. Very hot weather is appalling. I'm a cool weather type. Having Christmas in hot weather is not exactly ideal.

5. I love music, and try to include it in my writing. Not always easy, but the effort is worth it. To find out what I like, read my fiction!

6. I used to be a heraldic artist, so I can draw a lion rampant or a griffin couchant in a space smaller than an inch square.

7. I'm the calmest of creatures in a traffic jam, and I can wait a long time for things to arrive in the mail, but I can't wait for release of my forthcoming thriller, Camera Obscura.

Now to nominate five more deserving bloggers for the Versatile award. This is very very difficult, so bear with me while I think. These are places where I read and comment frequently.

Drumroll ...

Pic from
1. Helen V's Imagine Me at Clarion South

2. Mark Hunter's Slightly Off the Mark

3. Stuart Aken's  Daily Word Blogs

4. Mark Nichol's Daily Writing Tips

5. Tom Kepler's Writing Blog

There - that wasn't so hard. Now I must let these guys know. If you know them and already read these blogs, pass on the good news. If you have never heard of them, now's the time - click over to their neck of the woods, and enjoy the read.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Authors and book sales

It would be an unusual author who did not wonder from time to time about their book sales. Some say it's not what they write for, since the satisfaction of putting work 'out there' is all they need. Others produce a few copies for friends and family, and the joy of being read by their small circle is quite enough. A few dread the publicity, or what could happen if fame or notoriety knocked at their door, so they hang back.

English: Book Sales in the UK, 2008: Total Con...Image via WikipediaBut realistically speaking, most authors have some sort of level of interest in how their titles do on the market. Curiosity, eagerness, wishful thinking or a purely commercial mind-set will eventually push an author to harbour the desire to know how a title is doing, as far as sales are concerned. Not reviews. Not favourable comments on blogs. Not letters or emails from distant relatives or friends. No ... sales. Simple numbers of sales as they appear in a column of figures. Or on a pie-chart. Or a graph. They are not interested in global book sales of all the authors in a genre, or all the authors in a given region. They want to know how many books they have sold.

Most independent publishers send out half-yearly royalties statements to their authors. It used to be quarterly, but time and staff restrictions have seen the periods lengthen somewhat. So every six months, authors' eyes travel up and down those columns of figures and seek ... you've guessed it. Numbers of sales. How many copies of any title sold in that six-month period. How many people clicked that button. How many copies Amazon posted off. How many paperbacks in paperbags?
With so many turning to self-publishing (it's also possible these days to write that down without the need for euphemistic synonyms!) the ability to read sales figures almost as soon as the sale takes place has come about. Hold an account with Createspace or Kindle, and you hold the facility to view your figures in real time minus one hour! Oh goody gumdrops. Not.

This convenience, this facility, has the in-built ability to drive you mad. Make an addict of you. Take you from your writing. Sales could become the bane of your life. Arrggh! It used to be submission fever. Agent allergy. Rejection phobia. Now it's figure fatigue. I know some authors who keep a daily eye on what's happening on Amazon, Sony Ebook Store, Smashwords, and a couple of other online retailers. Daily. I know more than just a couple who have a peep many times a day. This can do a number of things to one's self-esteen, one's general morale, and one's schedule. It can completely stifle the will to carry on writing, or it can fill one with such euphoria it's impossible to write another word.

Every second day is a scenario that seems more sane. Let's face it - a sale is a sale. Its record will not fade away if one waits until the morrow. Weekly, too. A weekly peep will still give you a great idea. If an author were to look once a month, even, the figure is sure to gladden.

The temptation to look, however, is enormous. It's more than just an itch or idea. It's a compulsion.

Isn't it?

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Friday, November 25, 2011

A weak character can make a strong protagonist

Most writing manuals, courses on creative writing and authors' handbooks tell the writer to create strong characters. This makes one visualize tough personalities, imperturbable people who march through the written pages like nothing can flap them. Like they are made of steel. Titanium. Sterner stuff than we meet in our daily humdrum lives.

Strong character
Hm - on the other hand, authors are required by their audience to be believable. To create characters one might enjoy meeting. Or fear, or avoid, or love or admire, in a realistic way. To populate novels with memorable characters is certainly the requirement of today's demanding reading public.

Strong characters - two words one often finds in book reviews. Still, one has to wonder what strong really means. Exploring this in depth is vitally necessary to those who write character-driven stories: stories that stay in the heart not merely because of heart-stopping action, but because of the heart-rending emotion and psychological drama through which the author has led the protagonist.

We all have personality flaws and weaknesses - and secretly, we like to find similar failings in books, especially novels. Relating to a heroine who falls for the wrong bloke, but comes through victorious in the end makes for entertaining reading to some. Relating to a hero who dithers, ducks and weaves but reaches some sort of decision-making stance by the end can make for a good read. Many readers like it when tough-guy baddies have a chink in their armour. Since there is no such thing as a totally strong and unassailable character in life, we hardly expect to find it in fiction.

Brad Pitt as Achilles
Weakness in character, an Achilles' heel, a flaw or habit that reins in a protagonist and makes her worthy of attention can be interesting, and serve to make a novel that much more entertaining and intriguing.

In my forthcoming romantic thriller, Camera Obscura, my hero struggles valiantly with his weak side. He wonders why he cannot turn himself around, exit his inertia. He finds a woman who - in contrasting ability to his - takes charge of his life, at least for an interval, and makes him dizzy with ... with a feeling he cannot analyze. Oh dear. This man has weaknesses and failures. And yet, I have made that a strength. A strength for the novel and what it means. I hope I have imbued Bart Zacharin with enough muscle to satisfy a reader seeking change.

Perhaps that is what readers do seek: a weak character with failures much like their own, who finds an impasse but manages to overcome it.

Stay with me for the next few months, until Camera Obscura hits the online bookshops. Read chapter one by clicking on this link, and try and figure how I take Bart Zacharin from his state of inertia and make of him a fine hero one would not mind keeping and following.

Tell me what kind of character you like, if you are a reader. If you are an author, do you relish putting your characters through trials and tribulations that make them stronger?

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saint Luke's Secret World

The Four EvangelistsImage via Wikipedia
The Four evangelists by Jakob Jordaens
There were four evangelists. They did their writing during the first century AD, and what they wrote is now lost to us in the original. As one would imagine for such important writings - in an age when literacy was either low or non-existent among the ordinary town and village populations of the world - the scrolls were copied many many times and learned off by heart to be passed along verbally to the faithful, by those who took it upon themselves to spread the word.

There were historic intervals when supporting or disseminating the Christian faith was dangerous, if not lethal. Reciting what the evangelists left behind as testaments was not always safe. The copies of the gospels, as they came to be known, were hidden, secreted, buried, lost, stolen, forgotten, left behind and discarded. As often happened in history, some hiding places were only discovered centuries after the caretaker of a scroll died.

The faithful spread the word, and the evangelists suffered for their diligence and zeal in getting the word out. Their followers, translators and transcribers did their best to further the dissemination of their important message. Despite - or because of - this zeal, mistakes were often made, and what we read in the scriptures today is in all probability quite different from the original writings the four testament writers took pains to put down for posterity. What we are left with is the subject of study, controversy and conjecture by scholars. Is it exactly what the evangelists wrote?

So many stories - myths and legends - grew around the origins of the gospels, who had written them, and the ways they were copied, translated and interpreted, that it was difficult to come upon one unifying decision. Conclusions and pronouncements were made by kings and popes, and some were contentious enough to incite great debate or outright wars.

When Jakob Jordaens painted the picture you see here, he might have done it with something other than devotion or reverence. The origins and motivations of the evangelists must have been on the artist's mind. Controversy surrounds the reason why this respected Flemish painter portrayed three old men and one rather young one. Who is the youngest one? Is it Luke? Was Jordaens privy to a secret about the identity of this evangelist? We must remember that according to historians, Luke never met Jesus, but did meet Mary. Did the Flemish artists of Jordaens's time know something disputable about Luke's identity that has remained a secret?

Find out in According to Luke, a novel that takes the secret controversy and blows it apart. As an author, I took on a lot of research, and found that a considerable number of Flemish artists portrayed Luke in an androgynous way - unbearded, smooth-skinned, and with eyes averted. Why did they do this? They must have shared some secret about the evangelist who traveled with Saint Paul and wrote the Acts of the Apostles. What did they know?

Read According to Luke and see how this exciting thriller gives a reasoned, researched solution to the question. See how Saint Luke's secret world was so dangerous that murder, extortion and mayhem were undertaken to keep it that way... secret.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nothing beats F2F

Yesterday, I gave a talk about According to Luke, together with Robyn Varpins, the artist who created all the icons and other reverential artworks for the launch of the novel in May 2011.

Atwell Art Centre, Perth WA
We spoke to a room of very enthusiastic art patrons and practitioners, who were very intrigued by the interface between fiction and visual art. Talking in tandem, Robyn and I discussed the various aspects of the whole project.

I spoke about how I conceived the story and the characters. Robyn spoke about materials, inspiration, and working to a theme. Some of her icons were on display, and aroused a lot of interest. The aged timber supports, paints used, additions such as gold leaf... the audience was spellbound, and one could feel the questions start to form.

Although there was no time to read an excerpt, since this was a Wednesday lunchtime event with most people engaged for something else later in the day, it was lovely to see the rapt expressions of the varied audience. They watched the scrolling slide show on a large screen to one side, which showed various shots of locations from the novel, ancient icons, publisher BeWrite Books logo, locations used, and the cover of the paperback, of course.

Several copies stood on a table, in a display that included several Rubik's cubes, to highlight the significance of the cover illustration - a design by Tony Szmuk. In a very brief sidebar, I commented on the relationship one develops with the publishing team, and what joy and satisfaction can be derived from it. It is very much a part of what an author's life is all about.

Questions from the audience revealed a fascination with all things visual, and how they can relate to the human condition, fiction, and a host of other ingredients. A couple of audience members admitted to a fondness for writing, and all were avid readers - sometimes an author just gets lucky! Robyn and I could have answered questions all afternoon, but Deb Weber, our hostess for the event, wound up the session and opened the 'shop'. Yes, sales were very healthy for both books (they were all claimed off the table!) and icons, so Robyn and I both went home very pleased with the whole day.

Madonna icon by Robyn Varpins

One of the questions we were asked was whether we were going to attempt another collaborative project similar to the one for According to Luke. Robyn and I both nodded with the same enthusiasm. The success of this project is making us think very hard about the upcoming launch for my next thriller, Camera Obscura.

Since it involves visual art again, I have no doubt we shall be able to enthrall the growing body of fans for this kind of overlap between the different disciplines.

Do you read books about art? Leave a comment if seeing images from a novel portrayed in real paintings would elicit a shift in perception for you.

Do you write books about art? How does collaboration with an artist sound to you?
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Inspiring locations

Authors are often asked on interviews where they find their inspiration. Some find that question hard to answer, since seasoned writers can find triggers in almost everything: nature, real life situations, observation of behaviours, and more. In fact, anything to do with the human condition can get a seasoned author thinking creatively.

Overlooking Grand Harbour, Malta
I have often said that words themselves can drive me to write: a great sentence read in a newspaper article, a long-lost proverb, a line out of a play or song, or something as prosaic as a billboard can form the basis of a whole chapter or short story.

But nothing inspires me in the same way as a good location. More than the visual aspects alone, I can be captivated by what more imaginative people sometimes call the 'spirit of a place'. My pragmatic nature shies from words such as 'spirit', but I do hold that places are much more than what one can see in them.

A visit to a location sets off a series of questions in my writer's mind, and they are to do with history, origin, and the various footsteps that tramped that place through the years; the eyes that saw it, and the various stories that might have taken place in the very spot where one stands with one's camera.

Take this picture on the right. I stood right there in 2004, and waited until dusk bathed Grand Harbour, in Valletta with a veil of darkness, which was suddenly transformed by golden floodlights that turned the whole magnificent inlet into quite another place. The battlements and bastions were turned upside down in the water, and even the plainly practical port structures such as cranes looked romantic and meaningful. I had to use that scene - but more than just a scene: I had to use that feeling.

I gave the sentiment to a protagonist in a novel that will be released soon: I made him stand right in that spot, taking photos and feeling the enormous shunt the sheer history of a place can give a person. It's like a kick in the derriere that puts one little life into perspective. In the face and presence of some locations - and the essence packed into them - everything is pushed willy-nilly into perspective.

When the characters in my fiction have a problem, I send them to some magnificent place. I make them stand in some location where many before them have experienced drama: politics, romance, religion, ethics, the personal drama of relationships. All these are dwarved by the magnificence and meaningfulness of place. Place outlives them all, yet absorbs them all, and becomes imbued with their essence.

We could all make lists of locations that seem to embody history and drama. Yet there is not one square mile in any country that could be said to be free of history, politics, religion, personal drama and romance.

Pic courtesy
My forthcoming novel Camera Obscura (click to read Chapter One) is more than any other of my works of fiction, perhaps, concerned with the magic of locations. Scenes take place in  medieval places such as Mdina, where ancient portals can mystify the traveller, and Le Havre, in France (left), where constant change is just as intriguing and engaging. Compare this little photo with the big painting on top - yes, it's the same place, but what a difference! The same person, the same artist, the same novelist, can experience different feelings, even when visiting the same place on different occasions, or with a different companion, or with another camera.

Novels would be nothing without the places in which they take place. Whether these are real ones the reader can visit, or totally fabricated by some very imaginative author, the place must contain the story and magnify it. The importance of this cannot be emphasized too much.

How do locations in books affect you, as a reader?

If you are an author, how much time do you spend researching a good place in which to anchor your story?

Leave a comment - a discussion about locations would be fascinating.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Short fiction rules - OK

Short stories are back in style. Were they ever out, you ask. Well, yes. During the long and powerful reign of big-name corporate publishers, it was difficult to make much headway with short fiction. Authors were always told a number of things about short stories, and they believed them. So did the reading public. What were these things?

Raymond Carver:author of Little Things                            Image via Wikipedia Raymond CarverShort stories do not sell. It was utterly pointless sending a collection to a publisher or agent as a new author. Collections were not bought because of the myth that collections do not sell. They do, of course - just not in the quantities that would make them viable as competition for novels. And the big publishers compete against each other using novels and non-fiction, so it was rather pointless offering something they could not play with.

Short stories by successful authors are the only viable proposal. Despite the success of Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus and Annie Proulx with short stories, before they published novels, this myth was repeatedly put about by those who found them hard to understand.

Andre DubusImage via Wikipedia   Andre DubusShort stories are not taken seriously by readers. Readers have always loved and sought short stories - and verifying this truth is easy when one remembers the popularity of short story journals, anthologies and magazines. The New Yorker readers thrived on some of the best short fiction authors of the last century had to offer.

The number of movies based on short stories can be counted in hundreds: literally. Because of its succinct, distilled quality of prose, a short story lends itself to action, and the necessarily visual quality of film. No words are wasted on heavy description, and the director can go to town with interpretation.

In the 21st century, readers live lives dictated by the clock and the various digital appliances they carry about. Time is tight, and reading is done in snatches, in the oddest of places. Nothing lends itself better to this situation than the short story, which can be grabbed and digested in a very limited window of opportunity. I can think of nothing better than waiting at the dentist (which I have done a bit of lately) armed with a Kindle and a nice virtual stack of short stories by a number of varied authors.

Time seems to shrink-wrap itself around a short story, especially if it is of the quality that takes on enormous dimensions, with impressions to match. The impact of one of Andre Dubus's stories is equal, if not greater, to that of a great novel: it stays in the memory just as long, and its premise has the concentration and balance that takes all the genius an author can muster. There is much, much more play with words and juggling with spaces and suspense in a piece of short fiction.

Way back in the 90s, short fiction was my genre. Short stories might be easy to read, but they are the devil to write well. They need an entirely different mind-set and game plan to a novel, and they require mastery of vocabulary and what writing teachers like to term 'strong' verbs. They are a challenge, and great fun to write. And I wrote many.

Now, in the second decade of the new millennium, armed with my old skills which I am dusting off and reinstating, I find the short story to be a challenge once more - not merely in the writing, but also in promotion and marketing. Publishing them piecemeal for the Kindle is easy, which brings quick feedback and makes it easier to decide whether the game is worth the candle.

My latest one is called The Beige Porsche, and is one of a series that uses cars as a vehicle (ha! couldn't resist that one). I would appreciate comments on whether you like short fiction, have ever bought or read it, and whether writing it is as much a challenge to you as it feels to me.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book covers - the great debate

A Cate Myers design
Many authors love their book covers so much they have posters of them made, framed, and hung in their study or office. I must admit to liking some of the covers of my books that much.

When BeWrite Books sent me this cover for approval, way back in 2005, for my first novel Death in Malta, I fell in love with it at once. My fans loved it too, and this first novel has been a nice steady success ever since. Sometimes, a cover and the content of a novel just click together, and readers sense this.

A Tony Szmuk design
I feel that typography is one of the most important elements on a cover: after all, one could dispense with everything else. The words - title and author's name - are not something a book can travel without. I like solid no-nonsense typefaces whose style seems to match with the book's content.

When BeWrite Books sent me the cover for According to Luke earlier this year I was not immediately convinced. It took me a while to see the genius of Tony Szmuk's design. Ever since the book was released, I have received any number of compliments about the novel's appearance. People praise its appropriate 'puzzle' suggestion, and the background that indicates the watery location of Venice.

It's far from easy to design a book cover. Designers are visual people - and they rarely have time to read a whole novel in order to conjure the image that might interpret and promote it best. By the same token, authors are 'word' people who rarely understand visual prompts as well as those trained to understand what makes people love a cover. Or better still, makes them buy a book because they like the cover.

A Rosanne Dingli design
When it came to designing covers for my story collections, issued independently from a bunch of out of print collections, whose rights had reverted to me, it was a steep learning curve. All the years of art school seemed not to mean much at first, but my training there - and a background working in magazines and publishing - soon put me right. My latest effort, Encore, is here on the right. It's wrapped around my latest collection, released in time for Christmas gift-giving, so I hope it is suitably festive. Apart from being merely seasonal, however, it is meant to carry a bunch of stories all written around a music theme.

To come up with what you see, it took me a fortnight of playing around with concepts, images, words and colours. I am not the fastest person on earth to make a decision, let alone the two dozen or so selections one must make to create a cover. The process was slow and deliberate this time. The opinions of a number of groups and individuals were taken into account. Now the little book is out, and I hope will gladden me with the approval of a whole lot of happy gift-buyers this Christmas.

Your opinion is required: What do you think of the covers of all my books? These are only three ... there are several more, which can be seen on my website.

A candid opinion is a rare thing - I would like as many as you can muster. Leave one or two in a comment box for me.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Interview with Morgen Bailey!

At last - the shoe is on the other foot. Morgen Bailey, doyenne of online interviews, has accepted my invitation. This interviewer par excellence has allowed me into her virtual 'office' and has answered my specially-tailored questions. This is a rare event, so do take your time. Make a cup of tea, because it's long, and very enjoyable.

Morgen Bailey
Hiya Morgen, and welcome! You are known as the intrepid interviewer who gets hold of some interesting writers and grills one every so often… very often! How does it feel right now to be on the other side of the microphone?

“Intrepid interviewer” really? Wow. :) I’m very lucky actually because the interviewees tend to come to me rather than the other way round and yes, I’ve had some authors whose books I already happen to have, or see out and about after they’ve approached me which has been thrilling, and humbling, in both cases.

I won’t waffle on (because I know I’m good at it) but it all started because I was asked a couple of times (WhoHub and Teresa Morrow) to complete a questionnaire and really enjoyed it (so I guess that answers the last bit of your question) and my blog was a couple of months old (I started it at the end of March 2011 because I’d heard it a good thing to do) so I thought I could do this myself and the rest, as they say, is histoire. Well, they’d say that in France.

Now that I have interviewed so many authors (over 100 to-date) I’m getting a bit braver with asking other authors. Some ‘household’ names have said “yes” but they’re very busy so inside I’m jumping up and down but am realistic enough to know that it may either be a while or may not happen but I’m really enjoying it although it’s hard work (I post an interview each morning then an author spotlight or guest blog in the evenings) but I’ve never been shy of that, which is just as well isn’t it because I want to be a writer full-time.

I’ve just secured Katie Fforde (who I knew was a friend of one of my writing friends Sue Moorcroft) as the competition judge for the 2011 H.E. Bates Short Story Competition ( which is run by one of the writing groups I’m involved in (would it be too shameless to mention them? I’ll risk it so maybe I’m braver than I thought but I’ve not worked up to asking her to take part in my blog… yet. :)

Your name is easy to spell for me, since it means ‘tomorrow’ or ‘morning’ in Flemish, so I think it’s very pretty. I also have a name that is easily misspelled. It has to do with being an unusual person – how have you dealt with being singular and noticeable in your life?

Ah thank you. That’s very sweet of you to say but I’ve actually cheated as (for anyone who read my interview no.100) it’s a pseudonym. My real name’s very ordinary (Alison) and I love being someone else, although at times I do feel a bit of a fraud, not sure why really.

My dog (whose picture is splattered around the internet almost as often as mine) is Bailey and my previous dog was Morgen. I have German connections going back many (over 30) years so that’s why I went with the unusual spelling. Sometimes I wonder whether it was the right thing to do (as it’s so often spelled the normal way; Morgan) but I think once it sticks, Morgen is more memorable and I like it being a bit different. Besides, the domains for Morgan Bailey were already taken (I actually checked after I’d set up my website) by a coffee company, construction company and porn star – that makes for an interesting conversation!

You prefer to have your avatar precede you wherever you go – who made the portrait, and how much like it are you really? I’m talking about personality rather than looks – what do you think it says about you?
I’ve just changed my Twitter picture to the photo that inspired the caricature because author Marika Cobbold (who I met when I was volunteering at Chorleywood Lit Fest November 2010 – she’s great!) was having trouble changing her picture so I changed mine and relayed the steps and when she saw the new one she said she loved and that I should keep so I have.

The other one I use is of Bailey but not so often or he’d get too bigheaded… he ‘uses’ his big brown eyes enough as it is. :)
A local cartoonist called Adrian Teal (he’s easily Googleable) drew it (I love it but I know my mum’s not keen – sorry Adrian – but it’s a caricature, they’re supposed to be exaggerated). I walk past his studio on the way to / from work three times a week and I love cartoons so one day I emailed him and arranged to take some photos in. He does a lot of work for Private Eye and the likes so said it would be a while but took less than a month so I was pleased (and was £70 which I think was great value). I have the original 10”x8” picture which he scanned and emailed to me.

I know you said not looks but I’d say it’s pretty close; I have a Roman nose (not sure why as it’s not inherited from my parents… although after hitting the bottom of a swimming pool diving off a 5m board – we’re a sporty family – my mum’s nose has never quite been the same) and do catch the sun although the first version Adrian emailed me was even redder and I don’t drink that much so I asked him to tone it down a bit. Oh and he’s given me blue eyes which I’ve always wanted (mine are grey / green)… and a thinner waist – they were worth the £70! As for personality, I guess it makes me look approachable (I like to think I am) and happy (which I try to be) with sparkly eyes which I think is my passion.

After having interviewed so many different authors, what have you learned about writers in general?

How many of us there are. That sounds a bit daft but since I’ve been involved with these blog interviews I’ve been paying (even) more attention to books for sale in the charity shop (Red Cross) I volunteer at (I’m their ‘book lady’) and car boot sales etc and there are so many names in amongst the ‘household’ ones, which is great because it means that people are not just sticking with the top x%. When I see them I buy books of people I’ve encountered (so to speak) and started a bookcase of them but that’s now spilled into the box room as I’ve met a few at events (yes, in the flesh!)… chatting with Mark Billingham and Michael Robotham in the ‘green room’ at Oundle Lit Fest (my second volunteering experience) in March 2011 has got to be a highlight. Mark was on Radio Litopia ( recently – that was fun.

Morgen, your work runs the danger of being eclipsed among all the online work you do that’s more about writers and their craft than about you and your fiction. Where do your motivations lie – and where do you fit in?

Good question. Although I’m loving every minute I am conscious that I’m not getting time for my own writing and my life is a constant battle against time but then so it is, I’d say, for the majority of writers, housewives, retired folk (my mum’s a keen gardener and that eats the hours) et al and I’m very lucky, I only work part-time but could so do with the extra 20.5 hours a week (plus travelling / getting ready time) for writing. I think if I didn’t work I’d have a better balance but bills have to be paid. It’s a goal, but as long as my editor, Rachel, has something of mine to work on I’m happy. She’s eaten and spat back out my 365-day writer’s workbook and currently has a short story collection / writing guide to work through so I’m concentrating on the covers etc. at the moment.

For me, at the moment, I partially selfishly see the blog as a marketing tool, for every new contact I make there’s someone new to mention my books to (when they’re ready – I’m hoping in the next few weeks) but not go mad. A round robin email per new book would be plenty. The fastest way to get de-followed on Twitter is to say “come buy my book” every other Tweet. I think a fair balance (which I think I saw on a LinkedIn thread a while back) is 90% useful info (and I have lots of that thanks to the handouts I do for my writing group, guest blogs etc) and 10% tout… or better still 99% / 1%. That’s easy to say as my books aren’t ready yet. I dare say once they are I’ll be wanting to shout it from the rooftops. :)

None of the writers you have worked with failed to notice your indefatigability. (It’s a real word – I’m sure you love it!) Where do you get the extra four hours to every day you seem to have more than everyone else?

By not sleeping them, in a word (well, four). Indefatigability – love it! I love making up words (it’s in our Terms & Conditions isn’t it?) although you’re right it is a proper word. I guess I hide behind aforementioned avatar but I put it down to passion. Having left school (coughs) years ago not knowing what I wanted to do (so ended up being a secretary which has been really useful for the old typing speed) I fell into writing by default working my way through the local university prospectus (I’d done the languages and computing courses) and joined crime writer Sally Spedding’s class (which I took over in 2008 when she moved to Wales) and have been hooked ever since.

Tell us a bit about your favourite novel, and where we can find it. Where can we find out more about you and your work? Where can we see covers for your books?

Kate Atkinson
As mine aren’t ready yet, I’ll mention my favourite authors; Kate Atkinson and Roald Dahl. I’m a BIG fan of short stories (and that’s what I write most of, although I’ve written four novels which will eventually become novellas – cutting out the waffle) and love dark tales. Kate’s aren’t dark but their quirky. I keep looking out for her appearances and missed out on her being near to my mum’s (where I used to live) by a couple of days which was really annoying. Still, Kate did bring out ‘Started Early, Took the Dog’ hardback on my birthday (19th August) last year which was very generous of her. :)  I recorded her ‘Case Histories’ TV series when it come out a few weeks ago but I’ve not watched it yet as short story author Helen M Hunt wants to see it again (who I only recently found out lives in the same town as me; we met and get on… well, like the proverbial burning house) so we are going to have a marathon veg out sometime soon.

Roald Dahl
As for Roald it’s too late but my dad met him (he was his local photographer) and took a video at Sophie’s birthday party – sadly I don’t think we kept a copy. My mum still lives near the museum and I’ve shamefully not gone yet, something to do in the winter I think.
My blog is and website but the latter is a shell really. They both have links to my Facebook and Twitter profile. My covers are somewhere between my brain and the Picasa software that one of my Monday night writers (hi Denny – she’s also my unpaid gardener – we swap skills) introduced me to recently… I like PhotoShop but this is so great (and free).

Let's tell everyone what you really do, shall we?

Morgen is foremost a writing-related blogger, but also hosts the weekly Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast, two in-person writing groups (based in Northampton, England), is the author of numerous short stories, four and a half novels (which she’s reworking for eBooks), articles (most recently for the NAWG Link magazine), has dabbled with poetry but admits that she doesn’t “get it”, and is a regular Radio Litopia contributor. She also belongs to two other local writing groups (one of which runs the annual HE Bates Short Story Competition) and when she’s not at her part-time day job, as a secretary, she writes, researches for her writing group, writes a bit more, is a British Red Cross volunteer and walks her dog (often while reading, writing or editing) and reads (though not as often as she’d like), oh and sometimes she writes.

Thank you for accepting to do this.

Delighted to Rosanne, thank you for asking. It was lovely to be on this side, and to have very different questions to mine!

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Writers and money

Many writers say they write because they have to. Many say it's a passion they give in to. Others declare they are addicted and cannot stop writing, while a few admit they hope to strike it lucky and sell thousands of books a month.

Pic: Royalty review council
I suspect more belong to the latter group than would willingly and candidly agree. It must be the dream of all authors to discover one bright day, on opening the email that contains their half-yearly royalties statement, that sales exceeded all their expectations. Show me an author who would not love to be blown away by figures in tens of thousands.

The reality is that for most writers large figures are the stuff of dreams. The realistic author understands the nature of the market, the fickle aspect of retaining a readership, and the difficulty of publicity and promotions. Most people in the entertainment industry - and that is where fiction belongs for most people - will attest to the fact that they must have a 'real job' to feed their writing habit. Any artistic undertaking generally means that the hours spent in pursuit of that art are rarely all remunerated. Only big name authors and those near the top of the mid-list come anywhere near making enough to live comfortably. Some teach, others hold down a job in some other industry, and others have a supportive partner or spouse who subsidizes those long unpaid hours.

Dan Brown, bookjacket image.Image via Wikipedia Dan BrownThis is not to say that there aren't authors who do make a comfortable income - of course they are. And it's so comfortable it makes the news. Telling people you are an author sometimes brings on reactions and comments that are entertaining: there is a myth or misconception that all authors make as much money as Dan Brown or John Grisham or JK Rowling. Some think it's as easy as John Locke and Amanda Hocking seem to have found it. Few realize how hard these authors work, what they endured to get where they are, and the reality of the figures attached to their success.

Each book sold brings an author less than three dollars in royalties at the end of the day. Working out how many books one must sell to cover one electricity bill is a lesson in realization of a dismal fact. It is exceedingly hard to write for a real living. Of all those in Australia who claim to be writers, only a very small percentage make enough to maintain a moderate lifestyle.

It could be depressing to realize this, but it can also be liberating. Nothing prevents people from holding down a job and also writing books. Many understand the artistic quality of having to subsidize society, rather than the other way around. Like I said before: it's a rare artist who gets paid for all the hours it takes to conceive and create, adjust and perfect something that will please or entertain an audience. Whether it's writing, painting, acting, sculpting or playing an instrument, there are long, long hours of practising, editing, drafting... chiseling at that block, either practically or metaphorically, that will never be paid for.

Authors do not count their days in billable hours. Some feel they are working all the time - writing in their heads, promoting with their chat, visiting places and researching material with which to build the next chapter. Some feel it's simply not work, but incredible pleasure derived from a pastime or undertaking that is so enjoyable it would seem almost sinful to be paid for. All that ... and money too?

What authors give society is impossible to price. True, it would be nice for us to be recompensed in some sort of 'fair' way, but most realize it's an unrealistic expectation. What authors give is time, creativity, talent and a gift for putting into words what can be felt, lived and loved. Let us not look at the most commercial and well-paid among us - let us instead look at the ones who donate freely of their time and talent, knowing it might never be noticed, let alone valued. Let us consider the truly amazing body of work created not because it might one day make millions, but because it might one day make a reader wipe away a tear, or chortle with delight, or sigh with joy.

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