Sunday, July 28, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell is a UK author who's debut novel Beachdog will be available this August. Beachdog is about life on a beach in Goa: Some people travel to the other side of the world to go nowhere. 

Hi Joseph. Tell us about Beachdog? What brought you to write this book?

I've just always wanted to write a novel, I tried and failed when I was younger so was determined to complete it this time. They say you should write about what you know and as I travel a lot the theme kind of chose itself. I regularly go to India where I have seen so many interesting things and met so many characters that I decided to base a fictional story there. I think I just wanted to show people some of the nonsense that goes on in these places.

Tell us about the submissions process and getting a publishing deal.

After I'd finished the first draught I spoke to some people about it and joined a writers' group, once I had details of agents/publishers I started to send sample chapters off to them. I took it very slowly at first, a couple a week. I was fortunate that I was quite happy with what I'd written and decided to just send it off as it was and see what response I got. Initially I got some refusals but also positive feedback so just carried on sending off a couple a week. I think about my 15th submission was to an ebook publisher and a few weeks later they got back to me and asked for the whole manuscript, soon after they offered me a contract to publish it. I was on holiday when I found out so it turned into a very good day.

Do you have marketing plans you would like to share?

The book's not been released yet but I'm setting up a website and have setup Facebook and Twitter pages etc. I have also contacted travel magazines who I hope will review it once it’s available. My main goal is to get it noticed in the 'travel writing' market but being new to all this I'm kind of making it up as I go along. My publisher will obviously market it themselves but I think it’s important for the author to get involved with this as well.

Absolutely, particularly in this climate. Having a specific market to target is a good start. What about the future? Do you have new writing projects in the pipeline?

I've started writing another novel but I'm still researching it so it's a slow process so far. I wanted to write something quite different this time and I'm quite enjoying trying to get into the mind of some divisive characters, although I've still got one eye on the upcoming release and marketing of Beachdog so hopefully I'll be more productive once that's out the way and can focus on my new project.

I find that balance really difficult. There's an 80/20 rule but I certainly spend more than 20% of my time on marketing. Do you find writing groups like feedback groups and group writing sessions helpful or do you prefer to go it alone?

I find them very helpful - if only that you're surrounded by like-minded people and talking about writing, which can be hard to do outside of them, and some of the advice and knowledge you'll get can be invaluable. When it comes to advice though I always listen but rarely take, but I think that’s just me, I tend to be quite headstrong with my ideas.

Would your ideal life be similar to the one portrayed in Beachdog? Living the beach life, out of the reach of Western culture?

It would certainly be tempting, I’d like to live and work somewhere as exotic as the novels setting but doubt I could live that life permanently. The term ‘beachdog’ refers to backpackers who travel to far off places for months and then never leave the beach; I've met hundreds of them. I think people just find the simplicity of that lifestyle very appealing, we like the idea of leaving western society behind and living barefoot on the sand with no TV and just the contents of a rucksack. They’re not travelling to see anything but just to escape reality, but I don’t think you can do that forever, it will always catch up with you in the end. At one point in the book the protagonist meets an old, drunken hippy and asks himself “is that my that what I’m aspiring to?” and I think I’d come to the same conclusion.

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Well I'm looking forward to reading Beachdog and possibly following that, a trip to Goa! Thanks for the chat, Joseph, and best of luck with the launch!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Women Writers Women Books

Women Writers Women Books is an online magazine which has become a community for women to talk about their writing and share the writing experience.

They launched in 2011 to promote new writers and have developed a large following with a rich variety of submissions.

I was excited to contribute a post on how I became a writer - from once being someone who would have balked at the idea!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Matt Bone

Matt Bone is a writer based in Bath. His debut novel Endless, book 1 of the Crescent series, was book of the month at Fantasy Book Review and a semi-finalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books 2012. Matt and I are e-friends, having both published a piece in The Interpreter's House. I knew he'd agree to a Virtual Coffee Interview as he's addicted to coffee.

Hi Matt. Interestingly you started out studying astrophysics  What made you switch to writing?

My career path certainly isn't typical, though us writers are
usually a strange bunch as I'm sure you'll agree/fervently deny. I've always been drawn to both science and writing, and it was a close call when first choosing my degree. I ended up opting for Astrophysics – then after finishing that I went and studied English Literature, partly because I’m greedy, mainly because I’d figured out by then I’d make a much better writer than scientist. Hopefully both inform my writing, but at least if all else fails I might have a backup career as Brian Cox’s speechwriter.

Writing and science do appear to go together. I know a lot of people who like myself, write software by day and prose by night. Tell us about your publishing experience. Did you consider traditional publishing before taking the Indie route?

I sent out a couple query letters to agents and received some interest, but in the end I was swept away by the excitement of the digital revolution in publishing, and the new avenues it opened up for authors. It’s certainly been a learning process, but I couldn't have hoped for a better response critically or commercially. There’s a fair bit of extra work involved in going the indie route, from arranging an editor and cover artist to all the marketing and promotion, so any writer under the impression this is the easier route should probably think again if they want to be successful. Going indie means acting as both author and publisher, and you have to be equally adept at both roles. Fortunately I've received a great deal of help and advice along the way.

The next book in the Crescent series I’ll publish via my own company again, but I wouldn't rule out going the traditional route for future projects. There’s a lot of decent publishers out there, especially those who are swiftly adapting to the new digital landscape. The best thing about the publishing upheaval is that now authors have a choice.

Why did you set up your own company to publish Endless instead of using one of the existing self-publishing companies?

I set up a publishing company called Astro Impossible Books. It's not necessary of course, but it adds a little extra professionalism, or at least reminds me to think like a business when it comes to publishing the books. I don't think I'd go with an existing self-publishing company for the same reasons I chose against a traditional publisher - I wanted to be in control of all aspects of the novel and its release.

Endless takes place on the planet Crescent. Tell us about how you created a world with its own laws of physics and humanoid characters? Did you do much research?

A terrifying amount. Research and planning took several months at the start, and continued to be a large part of the workload throughout. There’s always another aspect to flesh out, be it historical or anthropological or why-is-that-big-mountain-there, which inevitably leads to five further aspects that need attention, and so on; the world can never truly be finished in that regard, which is both exhilarating and an almighty time sink. Even if you’re being sensible about the level of detail you put into the world it remains a large task, but luckily you don’t have to start from scratch. Earth provides all the inspiration required – you can barely imagine anything so weird and wonderful as that which is already lurking in some exotic nook or dark depth of our planet. Then of course there’s a world’s worth of history to pilfer for your cultures and civilisations.

I made things a little easier for myself by populating Crescent with humans, as well as fairly recognisable (if archaic) technology; then I made it much harder by making all other flora and fauna unique to the world, and introducing some complicating magical twists. It’s not writing unless you’re making your temples throb.

More of my rambling about world building can be found here, if anyone is feeling particularly masochistic. 

It actually sounds like a lot of fun to do - but also a huge amount of work. Tell us about Rifts, the next book in the series. In what way do you think you have grown as a writer since Endless?

In many ways, definitely. Endless underwent six months of editing and rewriting under the guidance/barracking of my editor, and ended up about 20k words lighter at the end of it. It was a fairly gruelling process, but one which taught me a lot. With Rifts I've been a lot more methodical in regards to planning and structuring the book – even if the storm of post-its and notepads on my desk suggests otherwise – and I think the pacing and clarity of the writing has also improved. It’s subsequently given me the freedom to make the plot even more complex and multi-stranded; Rifts is perhaps a more challenging story, more simply told.

It’s also darker, grittier, and more immediate. Whereas Endless had more of a slow build (necessary in some degree to assemble the world and its characters), with Rifts I throw the reader right into the tumult. Best sharpen your blade.

What about the future then? Will you stay within the fantasy genre?

I envisioned the Crescent series as a trilogy, so there’ll be at least another fantasy book after Rifts. But I’m keen to try out other genres, or perhaps something more mainstream. A lot of my shorter fiction has been of a literary bent, so I wouldn't rule that out. Recently I've been working on a black comedy, which might turn into something eventually. That’s the fun thing about being a writer (and reader), your next trip is as likely to take you to Mars as it is Milton Keynes.

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It's also an advantage of independent publishing - you're not tied to what your publisher wants and can follow your own creative path. I really enjoyed Endless, and am looking forward to Rifts. Good luck with all of it, Matt.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview With Lisa Goll

Lisa Goll runs London Writers' Cafe, one of the largest writing groups in Britain. I've enjoyed many of the talks, feedback sessions and social evenings all smoothly run by Lisa who also fits in a full time job and her own writing projects. A busy woman but, happily for me, with time to answer some questions for us here.

Hi Lisa, I think London Writers' Cafe is a fantastic resource for writers. Tell us about how it started and how it has grown.

In 2006, Suzy Jones and a few friends decided to gather together, read their work and get some peer feedback from one another. The word got out and soon a community had formed around this idea of reading your work to other writers for their advice and critique.

After Suzy left, and a few subsequent organisers also decamped, it was left to Ben Lovejoy. He did a brilliant job of keeping it running and he was at the helm when I joined in 2009. But at the beginning of 2010, Ben decided to pursue other projects and so the group was going to be shut down. At that time, I’d only attended a few meetings but I really enjoyed the community, the notes I’d got on my readings and the opportunity to socialise with other writers on a regular basis and so I stepped in as Organiser. Little did I know…

The thing about LWC is that it has grown, for the most part, organically – word-of-mouth is a wonderful thing – I think all I've done is tended, like a gardener does to a vine, the way in which it has grown. When I began, we had around 750 members. Today we have almost 2,200. I may have helped get the word out but mostly I think its continued success is all down to our members; taking part, talking about it, telling their friends, giving me ideas as to what to do next so as to gather more supporters. It’s wonderful really to have a community that’s really happy to talk about you when you’re not there.

Well I also think it's down to your organisation skills and investment in it, Lisa. I know you are an advocate of writers having an online presence. What tips would you give to writers trying to grow their e-profile?

  • Watch others. There are a lot of people out there who are really confident and competent at gathering a following online. Watch them. What works for them? What doesn't? It will give you a good baseline to get started. 
  • Start small. There’s no point signing up for every social media site that exists because most writers will struggle to keep up, or spend their entire day updating and not writing. Choose one of the sites you think you’ll like first; once you've got the hang of that, add another and another until you feel you've got the right mix for you. 
  • Keep it simple. You don’t need to have Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest/Youtube to be successful. Social media is about being authentic and I think that comes only by being able to enjoy it yourself. If you have to update everything everyday it will become a chore and your audience will sense you’re just going through the motions. Apathy is the enemy of all social media.
  • Content destinations. What interesting information, web sites, videos, podcasts, extracts or otherwise do you have to share with the world? Are those things all in one place and easy to navigate? It’s worth thinking about the ultimate destination for all the activity you do – promotionally speaking – if someone is directed to view a video you've done on Vimeo without any supporting material how are they going to understand more about you? It would be far better if that video lived in a blog so that other information about you could live beside it. You have less than three seconds to impress someone when they click on a link so make sure you’ve got the best front of house possible. 
  • Be the audience. Whatever you share, post, tweet or give out online it’s a good idea to think about the individual reading it and the impression they’ll get. I see profiles all the time that are half-finished (egg photos), lazy or just ill-advised. Your profile online is your brand so it’s a good idea to step back, read it and think about the impression you’re giving off. Best to get this all completed before you start reaching out to anyone else. 
  • Engage. Don’t ever think that being on these sites and sharing only what you want is how social media works. It isn't. Think of it like a networking party. You walk in, see a few people you know, many you don’t and everybody is already mid-conversation. If you’re next instinct was to immediately start shouting how wonderful you are to the entire room, how successful do you think you’d be at gathering people who want to know you better? So you really have to watch, listen and learn, at the start at least. Join discussions, share your thoughts with others if they've asked a question, take part in polls/comments until you’re part of the conversation. When you've gained some meaningful connections, that’s the right time to share more of yourself and what you’re up to. 
  • Apply the 80/20 rule. 80% of what you do online should be about others; commenting, having conversations, joining in etc and only 20% - or even less – should be about your stuff, especially if you’re selling something. People on social sites are there to talk to their friends, kill time, hang out, not be hassled to buy something. Remember the analogy about the party? No one is looking for a pop-up shop to appear in the middle of the room – it really kills the mood. 
That's a really comprehensive answer, Lisa, thanks. A lot of people seem tempted into the BUY MY BOOK overload but book sales, I think, are still built on word-of-mouth so it's important to hit the right market, and as you say, engage. Tell us about your own writing projects.

I've been toiling away at my first novel for what feels like a decade. That said, I hope to have a first draft ready for the editing phase by the year’s end. I have everything crossed that books will still exist by the time I’m done.

What are your thoughts on Amazon's exclusivity deal which means more exposure on Amazon - the largest market - but restricts e-publication to the Kindle?

I don’t have a lot of time for Amazon, it has to be said. I’d like to imagine they care about writers, and therefore publishing, but with every decision that’s taken it feels less and less like that’s true. By giving self-publishing over to writers, they paved the way for more options for writers – never a bad thing – and gave an electric shock to those publishers who had grown complacent but, on the whole, I don’t think they’re in it to ensure the legacy of quality literature. Also, reaching a ‘mass-market’ via huge exposure is fast becoming obsolete. The trend for readers to find new books via recommendations, through friends and their networks, is about 500% higher than it was five years ago, so you don’t need a lot of exposure, just enough exposure to your ideal readers. 

My concern with Amazon is that they will force the other ebook providers out of the market and then be able to charge as they like and set whatever rules they like for writers who will have to play ball if they want to sell their book. But do you think this is going to happen or that there will be a backlash?

I don't think any retailer, even a colossus like Amazon, will ever be able to take full control of the market. Plus, there's a lot of legislation out there that would prevent them from owning it all and being able to charge whatever they like. I think ebooks are definitely here to stay but the landscape of who sells them and for how much is constantly shifting. But the best news for writers is that there are always new sites being launched so it is only a matter of time before someone invents the next 'Amazon' - of ebooks at least - and the goalposts will move again.

Good point, that there will always be new competition. Tell us something about your 9-5 activities.

By day, I work in digital marketing for The New York Times Company*. Primarily, this means devising digital campaigns, content and web sites for colleagues around the world. It’s great and it keeps me well out of trouble. 

You have so much industry knowledge, would you ever consider taking on a consultancy/coaching role? A lot of blogs provide marketing tips, is this a route you would like to develop?

I never say no to anything (unless it's illegal or dull), so yes, I do see myself advising more as time wears on. In fact, I think that's the part I like most about my role at London Writers' Cafe; bringing interesting/useful tips I learn and sharing them with others. And having grown up amongst a lot of teachers (both parents and countless family friends) I really enjoy encouraging others in this way and I'm always gathering new things to help them improve. 
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Well it will be interesting to see your next move, Lisa, and your writing... Thanks for the chat!

* All views shared in this post are very much my own.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Michelle Shine

I am excited to post my first Virtual Coffee Interview with Michelle Shine, a fiction writer based in London. Michelle's debut novel Mesmerised will be available in September 2013. I know Michelle through our writing group and in fact we got a publishing deal around the same time - something we still have to celebrate.

Hi Michelle - I'm just noticing a funny symmetry with our photos, it must be a writing thing - So tell us how you started writing.

That's a difficult question as I can't remember a time when I didn't write, but I haven't always taken my writing seriously. It was when I wrote a novella, The Subtle Art of Healing that was long listed for a Cinnamon Press prize in 2007,  that I began to think that maybe I should. 

Mesmerised is about a real-life character who was the subject of a Van Gogh painting. Can you tell us about him? What drew you to him?

Yes, I read The Homeopathic Revolution by Dana Ullman, a book that lists all the famous people through the ages who have used homeopathic medicine, and was immediately fascinated by the entry of Dr Paul Gachet, artist, friend and homeopathic physician to many of the Impressionists. He was trained as a conventional doctor and worked as an expert in melancholia under the famous Dr Jean-Martin Charcot - who trained Sigmund Freud - at La Salpêtrière in Paris. When Camille Pissaro's brother Alfred was dying of what was probably TB and the allopaths couldn't fix him, Gachet saved his life with homeopathy. Gachet painted under the pseudonym Paul van Ryssel, and one of his paintings, Cholera Scene, hangs in the Musée d'Orsey.

Your next novel has brought you to Lithuania for research. Can you tell us about that? What can we expect?

Another historical novel set in the same time period as Mesmerised but that's where the similarities between the two novels end. This novel began life as a short story based upon an anecdote told to me by my grandmother when I was a small child. It focuses on the life of a family who lived in a Jewish shtetl. The short story was shortlisted for a Cinnamon Press prize, and my writing group the fabulous Nomads, wanted to know what happens next. I was between writing projects and decided to indulge them and carry on with the narrative. The first draft of the novel is down. The book takes place in the part of Russia that today is Lithuania and I've come here to get a feel for the landscape and the towns that my imagined family lived in before beginning my first edit. 

What a lovely back story. Do you think you will stay with historical novels then? I know you also write short stories, might you publish a collection some day?

Inspiration seems to come to me in different genres. My novella was contemporary and a lot of my short stories have an element of magical realism, and yes, I would love for them to be published as a collection one day.

I know that like myself you have signed with an independent publisher. We have to be proactive with our marketing - would you like to share some of your marketing plans?

I've instructed a talented young film maker, Teodora Bergland, to make a one minute trailer for the book. And have an interview coming out in Homeopathy in Practice which I will load onto my website and also the website for the book I'm intending to do readings in independent bookshops and small lit fests, and also use the internet, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc to get the word out. By the way, I think this is a fabulous idea.

I think a book trailer is a great idea. I look forward to seeing it. What do you do to get a break from writing?

I usually swim 5 days a week and do yoga everyday. I also love spending time with friends, other writers, and family. I love the theatre, listening to music,  going to see films, and hanging out in art galleries. And, of course, I read.

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Interesting that you mention yoga - a lot of writers say this helps with creativity.  Do you find this to be so?

There is no doubt that the work I do in yoga has a positive effect on me.

Thanks, Michelle. I'll be putting Mesmerised on my GoodReads list. Best of luck with it and the future.