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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Writing a Query Letter

Here are a few simple factors when writing your query letter:

ALWAYS enclose an SAE – no buts, or whys, just enclose one big enough for your ms to be returned. And on sending make sure you put on the correct postage!
Try and find out the name of the agent you want to approach, but don't rely on Writers' and Artists' Handbook and the like too much, because agents change jobs frequently. Use their full name "Annie Agentson", rather than Mrs Agentson.

DON'T try and be clever and gimmicky in your approach, neither be hostile. If an agent likes the look of your book, they will be trying to detect whether they could work with you by your letter content.

AGENTS have seen it all before. Be slick. Be professional. A little humility and subtle touch of humour in a letter can't hurt. Although, cheeky can pay off arrogance doesn’t bode well at all, so know the difference.

DON’T be pretentious or try too hard to be impressive. Agents don't care if you won Twitter's Shorty Award two years ago.
NOT every agent wants a long synopsis. Many prefer a 'back of the book' blurb – it could pay to find out.

DON'T be afraid to drop your book if it gets enough rejections and start again on another. There is a reason agents don’t want it, even if you can’t see it.

Read the company's guidelines before sending them anything, and stick to it. I get irritated when people send me things without looking into what I do. I get emails daily from writers who request I agent them or worse publish them! I do neither of these, so imagine the amount of unrelated emails an agent will receive.

NEVER mention the amount of rejections you have had for your ms – makes you sound like a failure.

NEVER tell the agent this is your first book and you’re new to writing. If you’ve published before however, reveal all.

NEVER say you have been working on a book for five or more years. Agents want authors who can churn out a book every year.

Do add links to your website/blog if it's writing related.
DON'T expect, just because you have an agent, you will automatically find a publisher. This can also take many

years and many more books.

Do keep your query letter brief, and straight to the point. Be professional, and don't write it in the tone of your novel. Save that for the synopsis.

REMEMBER the rejection slips are kept in bulk, and slipped into the returns envelope without thinking of you. You are just a commodity and rejections aren’t personal.

Keep your query to one page, and don't forget to add the date to the top.
Include all relevant material in the query, but don't go and repeat it all in the synopsis, keep that for telling (not showing) the facts of the story.

Your query letter should be gently persuasive. Include other publications that have your similar theme, but make sure it's not from the agency you are writing to (especially if they are a small company). If they already represent a thriller writer why would they want to risk their established author's irk to take on yours?

If you have been lucky enough to find interest in your ms, send it promptly when asked. In your cover letter, remind them of their request. Here, you do not need to enclose an SAE.

But did you know literary agents often, to save on printing costs, reuse the manuscripts that have been submitted?
They simply recycle the pages, and print what they need on the other side. So do make sure it’s your name and not the title of your book at the top of the page.

And if you sent a SAE and it hasn’t been returned your ms could be laying around with doodles on the other side! Or being idly read by an office worker - or a top agent. 

Obviously there are loads of books on this subject, but there is no hidden formula really. It's basically grabbing the interest of an agent with the right book at the right time.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Read all about it: Stefanie Newell's The Buzz

The Buzz
Stefanie Newell
Ebony Jenkins has exactly what most women are seeking - a good looking devoted boyfriend, a flourishing business and a beautiful little girl. But what people don't know is how she mixed hard work and deception to maintain the celebrity lifestyle she tries to emulate.
Endless taunts by classmates for wearing hand me downs echoes in her mind and motivates Ebony to provide for herself and her daughter. But at what cost?
She dreams big and refuses to be content with what would be considered a fulfilling life for most. Things are going great for Ebony until she suspects her up and coming rapper boyfriend Buzz could be dating the newest R&B phenomenon Arika.
Ebony’s obsession with celebrity gossip and dislike of all things popular in the media fuels her hatred for Arika and sends her on an all out Internet mission to ruin Arika’s blossoming career. As she's swept up in exposing Arika’s flaws and maintaining her faux celebrity lifestyle, Ebony uncovers some skeletons of her own. This novel shows that attaining fame and riches is not always what it’s cracked up to be!
Stefanie Newell is the author of two books: The Buzz and the non-fiction Marketing and Publicity for the Author. Born and raised in Chicago, IL, she gathered valuable experience and business skills that contributes to her success as CEO of Write One Publications, Inc.

Her debut novel, The Buzz, has been described as a humorous yet introspective look at the entertainment industry and its allure. The idea for The Buzz came while Newell was freelance writing for Unrated Magazine and her entertainment blog The Music Hot Spot. After observing the entertainment industry and lurking on various message boards and blogs over the years, Stefanie put pen to paper and brought to life the gossipping, Internet diva Ebony Jenkins. 

Published by her company Write One Publications, Inc., The Buzz has created a buzz amongst book readers and fans of celebrity gossip. Newell has been featured by media outlets such as Rolling Out, CollegeNews.com, and the Chicago Fox television show Raw TV.

Newell’s company also published the self-help book Pull Your Pants Up and be a man! by author Bernice Harris. Actor Malik Yoba (New York Undercover, Girlfriends, Why Did I Get Married?) dispenses practical knowledge and wisdom in the riveting foreword. The self-help book geared towards young men between the ages of thirteen and eighteen provides a nine-step approach to a goal-oriented life. Pull Your Pants Up was featured at the Father and Son’s Madison Square Garden event last year.

While promoting the book, there became a demand by parents of boys and girls for Newell to speak with students at schools and youth organisations. The Youth Empowerment Workshop was born. Newell is currently working on her second novel, Rules of the Game.

Interview with Stefanie Newell

What came first your publishing company or your book?
The book came first. I had absolutely no intention on starting a publishing company. In fact, I told my family that I was so not the type to market my own book. A few months later, after doing a ton of research and learning whether I was signed to a major publishing house or if I chose to self publish, marketing for the most part would be my responsibility, I had a change of heart. I chose to not only publish my own book, but form a publishing company. It's quite interesting how things turned out when I think about it...

Who’s involved in the company? Are you open for submissions? What kind of work do you take?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Taking 1960 by Rosa Sophia

Taking 1960 by Rosa Sophia

Rosa Sophia is a mystery author currently residing in South Florida. She lives with her writing partner in crime and their five cats. She works at a library, enjoys watching old television shows, collecting comic books, travelling and hiking. Her favourite authors are Jeff Markowitz and J.W. Coffey. In her photo, she is dressed as one of her characters from her next mystery novel, entitled Check-Out Time, a quirky story that takes place in a grocery store.

By her own admission she loves criminology, psychology, and collecting comic books and worrying, also has an unhealthy obsession with power tools!
You can purchase her book through the publisher by following this link: http://dreamz-work.com/products/Taking-1960.html
Hi Rosa, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. If you could sum up Taking 1960 in a couple of sentences what would they be?
Five young men were murdered in the late 1950s. It is up to Katherine to clear an innocent name and dig through her own family history to find the real killer.

Who are the main characters?
The main character is Katherine Maslin, and the story is hers. However, she is supported by her best friend Corry, her boyfriend Jake and eventually her therapist, Janis Crow.

What category would you put Taking 1960? Is it for adults only?
Taking 1960 was never written with a genre in mind. Nevertheless, I had to define it somehow, so I started calling it a Paranormal Mystery. It is essentially a ghost story, with a lot of twists. It deals with heavy issues including domestic abuse. I am sure that teenagers would enjoy it, but it is certainly not intended for children.

What makes your book unique?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Margaret Tanner, Australian Historical Romance

Frontier Wife
Margaret Tanner 

Frontier WifeOnly in the new world can a highborn young Englishwoman and a tough frontier man, ignite the passion that will fulfil their hopes and dreams in ways they never imagined possible.

Tommy Lindsay arrives in colonial Australia to claim the rundown farm she and her brothers have inherited.

Hidden behind her fragile English rose beauty, beats the heart of a courageous young woman. She will need all this strength to survive the unforgiving heat, and the dangers lurking around every corner. Lost in the bush, capture by a feral mountain family, raging bushfires are nothing, compared to the danger she faces if she gives her heart to Adam Munro.

Adam Munro, a rugged frontier man, has no room in his heart to love a woman. All he ever wanted was a presentable wife who would provide him with heirs. He didn’t need passion in his life, not until he met the beautiful English rose living next door to him.
About the author:
Margaret Tanner is an award winning multi-published Australian author. She loves delving into the pages of history as she carries out research for her historical romance novels, and prides herself on being historically correct. No book is too old or tattered for her to trawl through, no museum too dusty. Many of her novels have been inspired by true events, with one being written around the hardships and triumphs of her pioneering ancestors in frontier Australia. She once spent a couple of hours in an old goal cell so she could feel the chilling cold and fear.
Things you probably don't know about Margaret Tanner:
  • Her favourite historical period is the 1st World War, and she has visited the battlefields of Gallipoli, France and Belgium, a truly poignant experience.
  • Margaret is a member of the Romance Writers of Australia, the Melbourne Romance Writers Group (MRWG) and EPIC.
  • She won the 2007 Author of the Year at AussieAuthors.com. She also won it for a 2nd time in 2010.  
  • Margaret has two publishers. Whiskey Creek Press and The Wild Rose Press.  
  • Margaret is married and has three grown up sons, and a gorgeous little granddaughter.
  • Outside of her family and friends, writing is her passion.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Written a book?

Now let's get it into libraries!

I've a simplistic idea on how to get our POD books into libraries and therefore "out there". It will be a matter of trust on individuals but if we all pull together this could work.

If I list all POD books here. Others writers can request them at the library (costs nothing).

If you are interested in taking part put the title of your book and author name and ISBN number in the comments page, and I'll get to work devising a plan of action.

Be sure to register for Public Lending Rights (UK), to recieve payment.

What is Public Lending Rights?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Meredith Cagen - Chicklit Author.

Guilty As Charged
Meredith Cagen

When I was younger, I had a relationship that broke my heart. Adverbs, adjectives and accolades did not do him justice. He was the perfect man. No matter how many times he showed his true colors, I was steadfast in my belief that he was perfect. I languished in my illusion (actually delusion) of his perfection. I was in love.

I didn’t know what to do. There was no expert who could guide me. No published Q and A pertinent for my situation. I searched for a plan, a guidebook, and a path to success: how I can get the storybook ending with Mr. Perfect.

Every “what not to do while dating” offense a girl can make, I embarrassingly did. I was available to him. I telephoned him. I was the one who initiated contact, demonstrating my interest as if he had doubts. Running to see him when he beckoned, accepting his last minute dates and last minute cancellations. Worse, I accepted his lies, I had no self respect. I threw myself at him. I was insane! Where were my friends when I obviously needed them? An intervention was needed but no one restrained me.

Unwilling to consider the possibility of his rejection, I changed myself to meet his requirements.

Yes, Mr. Perfect had criteria. His personal preference was models, blonde skinny models. His office walls were covered with photographs of Mr. Perfect with his choice of arm candy. It was a shrine to his ability to attract these trophy girlfriends. A medium height, curvy size eight brunette (me) didn’t seem to be a worthy enough prize for a man of with his considerable talents.

I tried my best to meet his standards. I dieted, exercised, groomed, and ingratiated myself into his social universe. I attempted to succeed with this game plan. But I committed the biggest sin a girl can. A don’t so whopping that I am banned from giving advice forever. A mistake so huge, there is no known recovery. This dating felony pains me even now, years later. I told him, I was in love with him.

What was wrong with me? The girl police should have come and thrown me directly into jail or a padded cell on the spot. No trial or psych evaluation was necessary.

Crimes Charged: Extreme Stupidity and whatever else is beyond.

Verdict: Guilty.

Sentence: Rejection by Mr. Perfect.

My idiocy haunted me for years. If only I had a second chance. What could (coulda, woulda, shoulda) I have done differently while staying true to myself. In my fantasies, I would still be me, but smarter. What was I thinking during this dark period of being in love? How did I permit myself to act like a fool?

One day, I looked back at my past actions, those silly schemes, attempts at change, and idealistic belief that if I loved him with a pure heart, he would love me back. I started to laugh. It was funny, very funny. Telling this story would be my second chance and shot at redemption

Reality hit me as I lay pen to paper, Mr. Perfection was my upstairs neighbor, he was The Man Upstairs. That was the original title for my book, ‘The Man Upstairs,’ but people thought it was a book about religion.

To this day, I am uncertain what was going through my pathetic naive head during that time. Maybe I wasn’t thinking properly? There are theories that love affects (and obviously impairs) your cognitive thought processes. Next title was ‘What Was I Thinking?’ but people thought that was a self-help book.

My healthy curvy body, thin not emaciated, did not fit into his model sized world. I wasn’t who he wanted, whatever my size. Paroled from my romantic stupidity I realized that the intellectual/emotional connection didn’t exist between us. It is what is on your insides that counts. It’s a cliché but true. The older I get, it’s my sense of humor that gets me through the days and the nights. I love when someone makes me laugh, even if it’s me! I am a Size Eight in a Size Zero World.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Torc of Moonlight by Linda Acaster, plus her thoughts on POD and ebooks.

Torc of Moonlight by Linda Acaster
Cross-Genres Embracing New Technology

Linda Acaster is a three-times mainstream published novelist and writer of over 70 short stories covering an array of genres published in the UK, USA and Europe. Her latest novel, Torc of Moonlight, she indie authored as a POD paperback, and has subsequently published two of her rights-reverted backlist novels as ebooks. I asked for her thoughts of the process of becoming a POD and an ebook author:
Torc of Moonlight is a contemporary thriller with supernatural overtones, what my past agent and various publishers’ editors described as a cross-genre novel. No matter how they applauded the writing, it wasn’t going to find a UK publisher because it didn’t fall neatly into one of the industry’s pigeonholes. Such is life for the UK writer. Writers in the USA don’t have this problem. Cross-genres are embraced by a plethora of publishers, large and small, with the best novels coming across to the UK under licence and given the sort of publicity budget and self space that leaves Brit writers breathless.

But new technology is starting to level the playing field. Print On Demand paperbacks have been around for a while, but like all new technology its costs were high. In 2008 the first of the lo-cost POD publishers started up, and in 2009 Legend Press opened a POD arm, New Generation Publishing. Torc of Moonlight was sitting in a drawer, so I submitted it.

Lo-cost POD publishers work by leaving typesetting and editing to the author. They claw back their investment when a novel sells, much the same way as does a mainstream publisher, and the royalties paid to authors are similar. ‘Typesetting’ is simply a case of following instructions. Editing is a whole different matter and why self-published fiction, either as POD or ebooks, is still fighting suspicion.

I’m lucky in having a lot of experience in this field, and in being a member of a local authors’ support group which pulls no punches. However, there’s little excuse for any writer being slap-dash – it’s all down to a careful eye during proofreading. But if your writing skills are in the early-medium stages of development it could save a lot of heartache later to pay for an analysis now. No editor can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, so handing over a full script for ‘editing’ can be an expensive flop. Sending the first 50 pages for a critique, rather than an edit, will show up flaws, and armed with that knowledge a novelist is in a better position to make future decisions. Websites such as Authonomy.com offer something similar via peer evaluation, but your writing might be at the mercy of a peer at the same stage as yourself. As a first step, though, what is there to lose?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

My Moment of Fame

I had a moment of fame. It may have been brief, and it may have only been brought about because of the naivety of a 10 year old, but it felt good all the same.

I was shopping in the town centre with my son, and we passed Waterstones.

'Is your book in there, Mum?' he asked.
'Yes,' I said. 'Shall we go and have a look?'
Unbeknown to my son, that was my intention anyway. I usually breeze in, spot my book alphabetically arranged on the shelf under "w" and breeze back out again. I'm sure other writers are the same.

Incidentally, ever wonder if authors with names beginning with letters at the end of the alphabet don't get a fair crack of the whip as those beginning with L or M (dead centre, thus centre on the shelf)? Hmm, maybe I should change my name.

Anyway, we went in and had a look at Eden on the shelf. As we left a shop I could see a man making a beeline for me with a clip board. I tried to step side him, but couldn't.
'Madam, please sign. It's a good cause.'
I scribbled my name, and we walked on leaving the man trying to decipher my scrawl.
'Oh wow, Mum,' said son. 'He wanted your autograph! That is well cool!'

So, for a brief, brief moment I was a famous author - all in the eyes of my ten year-old son. It felt good nevertheless!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Black Pyramid by Anita Stewart and her thoughts on Author House

Black Pyramid: Ancient Breeds Series
Anita Stewart

Black Pyramid: Ancient Breeds SeriesEgypt. A beautiful land enriched with a history of mythical Gods and power hungry Pharaohs. The ONE who walks among us, who knows the truth of the Ancient Egyptians.... He hides the reality of an era long erased from the Temples and Obelisks, in order to keep the world safe. For there lurks an evil, waiting to regain control of Egypt and destroy the rest of the world!

Melissa Ambers, decides to take the once in a lifetime offer, to excavate a pyramid. Only this one isn’t just any pyramid. It’s the mysterious Black Pyramid! She soon finds out there is more than meets the eye to the stone monument. And within hours of stepping inside the dark tomb, she finds herself on the war path with Siaak. An ancient being, who will stop at nothing, to keep the BloodSeeker imprisoned. Even if it means killing Melissa and all who seek the knowledge of the Ancient Breeds!

Anita Stewart is a mother of three. Part Navajo, born and raised in North Carolina she is currently residing in England. I asked her a few questions on the writing process for Black Pyramid:

What is the genre of Black Pyramid?
Its a romance, fantasy, paranormal book.

Tell us a little bit about the story?
It is based on the Ancient Egyptians. More to the point, the original sand dwellers that predates the mighty Sphinx! I wanted to tell a story that explained who was the real creators of that amazing structure! And to go along with it, I decided to give the world a nasty, vile enemy, the BloodSeekers. A vampire race that ran riot around the world. Destroying everything in their path, including the humans. In order to fight them, the Egyptians, Atlantians, Myans, Aztecs, Amazons, Greeks, Romans and a few other Breeds decided to send their best warriors, in a last attempt at salvation! Black Pyramid, is the first in the series.

Is this your debut novel?
Yes, it is. And it was released July 5th, 2010.

How does Black Pyramid compare with other vampire novels and what makes it different?
My vampires, the BloodSeekers are very unique. They don't disintegrate in sunlight, nor do they cower underground, or other dark, dank places. They think for themselves and are extremely power hungry, blood thirsty creatures, hell bent on world domination! The BloodSeekers feast on human blood which turns them into BloodSlaves.

What audience is the book intended?
Black Pyramid has one sex scene. Not that my characters didn't try it on more than once. (laughs) There is violence and language of an adult nature. So it's not recommended for a young audience.

How long did it take you to write it, and how many drafts?
It took close to a year to write. I have a very young family with health issues and writing has to take a back seat at times. As for how many drafts, I lost count after ten. LOL. But seriously, I don't think any one author is ever completely happy with their first book. You work your socks off. Putting all your heart into it, and then when it comes to the finish line, you think to yourself, "I could have changed that part, or tweaked that scene." I had to make myself stop. And tell myself, enough is enough. But I'm very proud of myself and I believe it's a great story!

How many books are there going to be in the Ancient Breeds Series?
That depends on how well the series is received by the general public, but I've planned fifteen.

Can they be stand-alone reads, or will I have to read all to understand the story?
Each story continues on with the next book. Originally I wanted to make them stand alone reads, but there's just too much to try and shove into one particular book. But that doesn't mean you wouldn't understand the story by reading them out of order or at random.

Do you have a favourite scene in the book? Can we have a snippet?
(Smiling) Yes I do. I have a few favourite scenes and I'm open to sharing with anyone remotely interested. I've included a small scene. The main characters, Melissa and Siaak, have escaped after a confrontation with a hired assassin and this scene takes place after. I hope you enjoy it.

She took the last drag of her cigarette before flicking it on the sandy ground. She blew the smoke up into the air as she stamped the fire out. With a grunt of annoyance, she pushed off the large granite statue and flew at him. “I can’t believe you’d sink so low as to blame all this on Jonathon. He’s a decent man. Okay, sure, he gets on my nerves. He’s a man, he can’t help it.” She shook her head in denial. She refused to believe what he was telling her. “Jonathon isn’t trying to kill me, don’t be so stupid, I’ve known him since I was nineteen. You, on the other hand, mentioned it a time or two.”
He charged at her, ramming her body into the weathered Obelisk.
“OW!” Her head hit the hard stone making her vision blur. Instinctively, she pulled her fist back to punch him, as she strained to bite him with her teeth.
Siaak blocked her attacks. His hand clamped around her wrist forcing her arm behind her back with a rough jerk.
She sucked air in between her teeth at the sudden burning, cramping pain running along her shoulder blade. Was he trying to pull her arm out of its socket? She gave him a black look as she refused to give in.
The more she struggled, the harder he squeezed.
“I am not playing games Melissa. Open your eyes woman! The man wants you dead. Does that not upset you? I mean, if my friends hired assassins to kill me, I would be a little pissed off!”
“You want me dead, too!” She shouted back as she stood on her toes trying to relieve the burning spasm. His fingers squeezed harder at her accusation.
The sound of steel rang in her ears as he pulled his sword free and held it to her neck, just below her chin. “I can do it here and now if that is what you want?” His stance told her, all he had to do was push. The sharp blade would cut right through her neck, tendons, muscle and bone.
“I will be honest with you. My original plans were to kill you both. If you knew what is locked inside that tomb, you would understand my reasons for keeping it that way. I am honour bound to protect you and everyone else on this miserable planet!”
“Let me guess! It is alien and you have a pair of blue tights on under your clothes?” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
His features hardened instantly. His dark eyes narrowed to mere slits as he felt the sudden urge to shake some sense into her. The square of his jaw, now sprinkled with black hair, ticked with anger as he clenched his teeth together. “You mock me now, but when the time comes, you will need me at your back.”

Are Mellissa and Siaak your main characters, and will they be in all of the series?
Each book will feature a particular Breed and their HEA. Melissa and Siaak will be in other books, along side other characters. So their story isn't finished with this book.

Do you have any writing experience? Ie have you worked as a journalist, completed a university writing degree?
(Hangs head) No. I have no prior experience. I just love to write! I decided to publish Black Pyramid, only after enough people encouraged me to go through with it.

What are you working on now?  How many in the series?
I'm currently working on book 2 and 3. Sands of Time: Book 2, and Serpent's Revenge: Book 3, Ancient Breeds. And like I said earlier, 15 in the series, but that depends on so many factors i.e. readers. And at the moment, I'm a quarter of the way through on each novel.

Have you many unfinished novels/short stories tucked away under the bed?

I have a few short stories completed and unfinished. Same with novels. The Guardians, is a five hundred page manuscript, that I plan to re-write. It's an open/ending series called, Amirus. I also have three other series I'm currently working on. I tend to take a break from Ancient Breeds to work on the others. It's a nice change, until the characters start moaning.

You self-published with AuthorHouse. Have you tried to get an agent prior to this?
To be honest, I never bothered with getting an agent. I just assumed that with my life/family/health, that writing would be just a dream. Something I would do for myself, a hobby. So, no...it never crossed my mind to get an agent for my work.

What made you chose AuthorHouse? Can you tell us how much it cost?
AuthorHouse (originally called Traffords) was the first name that came up when I typed in my browser: Publishing a book. I filled in a form with all my details and received a booklet outlining book packages, marketing packages and so forth. Three years later, a few manuscripts completed, I decided to go with the feedback from my beta readers and self publish Black Pyramid. As for the costs of my package, I think it was just over a grand.
As a matter of fact, I just wrote on my web-blog about my experience with AuthorHouse. Titled: Self Publishing Do's and Don't's. It's under Blog/News

What’s your experience with them?
I have to say, I found it hard. I didn't know what I was doing. (Self publishing was a whole new world for me.) I knew I should have a hundred questions, but I didn't know where to start. I mean, don't get me wrong, the people that worked with me, were great. It's just that I think they should offer first timers a little more support. Give guidelines instead of shoving a website at you and telling you to visit it. That doesn't tell me, or anyone else what to do, or where to start. Okay, so you might know more about the process than I do, that's great! But, for people that are 'not in the know' give us more to work on!

Did they help with the editing?
Nope! Not unless I paid for the service. And I have to say, at the price of so many pence/cents per word, ($0.029) with a manuscript of 127,634 words, I'll let you work the math. But I can tell you, it wasn't happening for me! The same applies for the marketing side. Everything AuthorHouse and most other self publishing companies that I looked into, offer loads of extras, with a extra price tag. All I can suggest, is that you do a little research and go with the publisher that meets your needs.

Tell us about your marketing experience.

My marketing experience.. (taps chin in thought) has been a real testament of patience. My first idea was a website. I would really recommend a website. If you can afford to pay for one, great. If not, there are loads of Free websites! Then I spent hours at the computer, scouring the internet to find Free sites to advertise. Facebook, Myspace and Bookbuzzr to name a few.

Do you have a critique partner?
Yes, I have several beta readers, or critique partners. More now with the publication of Black Pyramid. It's amazing how many people want to read your 'next' book.

Now your book is “out there” is there anything you’d do differently if you could go back and do it again?
There are a few things I would change. Like, not using a laptop that had seen better days! And I might have looked into a agent.

Any last words?
I would have to say that no matter what, I've enjoyed the journey of self publication. Would I do it again? I'm not a 100% certain I would. I think the best advice I could give any writer interested in self publishing...look around for the best deal that suits you, or go with E-books. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro, or Adobe Acrobat to turn your completed manuscript into a PDF file. If you live in the states, go with Kindle. https://dtp.amazon.com/mn/signin You can make a bigger profit margin with ebooks. http://www.e-junkie.com/ E-Junkies is a great service to distribute your ebooks without having to sit by your computer, waiting for buyers, with endless emails of how to and where is my download link? And last but not least, believe in yourself. If you want to write, than do it!

To contact Anita and find out more about her and her writing visit her website: http://www.ancientbreeds.co.uk/
Join her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AncientBreeds
Become friends with her on Facebook.
Order her book straight from the publisher or from Amazon UK.
American buyers can grab a book from Amazon.com

Black Pyramid: Ancient Breeds Series

Monday, 2 August 2010


Ashley Stokes
Cult writer and cultural refusenik

Ashley Stokes
Ashley Stokes’s comic masterpiece, TOUCHING THE STARFISH stars Nathan Flack, a writer exiled in a backwater teaching creative writing to a group of high-maintenance cranksand fantasists. When a very literary ghost by the name of James O'Mailer starts to haunt Flack, he has to ask himself: is he sinking into a netherworld of delusion, or is he actually O'Mailer'sinstrument? TOUCHING THE STARFISH has already been compared to Lucky Jim, TristramShandy and the novels of Tom Sharpe.

The Author: Ashley Stokes’s fiction has appeared in over twenty anthologies and journals,including London Magazine and Staple and he won a 2002 Bridport Short Story prize.

Touching the Starfish
You say Starfish is hard to define as a genre, is that like all your work?
Touching the Starfish was definitely a departure for me and I certainly felt let off the leash when I was writing it. My other work was, or can be, a bit more straightforward. This was the first time Id tried to write a comic novel and the first time Id mucked about with the form quite so much.

Was it hard to hook an agent/publisher for Starfish because of the difficulty of knowing the genre?
Actually no, but I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time when Unthank Books was founded. LINK TO UNTHANK

You worked as a copywriter, what is that exactly?
For a short while I worked for the Enid Blyton Company, just after the 'brand was relaunched in the mid-nineties and all the licenses were up for grabs. I basically wrote promotional brochures for series, like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. We also had to update the characters as well, which once involved a whole morning deliberating what to call the imp in the Folk of the Faraway Tree because Enid had called him Chinky.

Oh, that's so funny! Dear old Enid Blyton wasn't very politically correct, was she?
What was even funnier about the Chinky business was that everyone was so blocked about the name that we dragged up from the stack another Enid book called The Christmas Imp, thinking we could nick that imp's name and retitle Chinky but his name turned out to be Prick-Ears.

I bet you had some giggles! Have you always worked in the "writing field"? Is this because you've always held a long-time belief that you would eventually become published, or has your work made you want to become a writer?
I did always want to be a writer when I was a child but then again I probably wanted to be a Warlord of Atlantis as well. I wrote a lot in my teens, then forgot about it. It nagged, though. Things didn't seem settled without it. It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I had the confidence to start. But I suppose I have always worked in related fields. I'd wanted to work with books and worked in bookshops for about two years after I left university. Then I worked in publishing trade sales and international rights. This was before I started to write fiction, something that really got going when I had a year off on the dole. After the subsequent Enid Period I took an MA, mainly to buy some time, and it was after that that I started teaching and editing as a way to support myself and work on my writing. The writing for me is the priority though the teaching and editing do feed into it: write better, teach better, write better, teach better. I wouldn't teach creative writing if I wasn't getting my hands dirty myself and I'd  be suspicious of any teacher who wasn't a writer, too.

You have studied creative writing at university and obviously this will help, but do you think others who haven't studied/been to university have less chance of being published?
It shouldn’t be that way, should it? Being a writer shouldn’t need a professional qualification like becoming a doctor or a loss adjuster. The best writers write because they need to and what they write is so distinct no one could teach it them how to do it. I suppose it depends on what type of market we’re talking about, too. A glace at the hardback fiction chart suggests that the writers who really shift copies probably didn’t study creative writing at university level, nor produce the sort of writing encouraged by such courses. If the work is strong, then not having an MA can be a positive advantage, I think. Publishers often want to sell an idea of an author before the novel, so “Jack Bratt has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA” may have less allure than “Jackie Bratby used to herd goats on Mount Ararat”. Then again, schooled writers often gain by osmosis a better idea of how the industry works and may make more professional approaches to publishers. They may also have better editing skills, too. Creative Writing course, if they’re any good, only really teach you how to edit.

As an editor, how frustrating is it to see authors' potential yet know they will be turned down with a standard rejection letter? Have you not wanted to contact them and say, look if only you'd do this, this and this you would have a greater potential?
It can be frustrating, yes, and it has become harder and harder for a first book to find a publisher unless it’s obvious that it will sell very quickly in great quantity at discounted prices. In my work as a creative writing tutor and as an editor for the Literary Consultancy (I’ve appraised over eight hundred novels and only three of the authors have been published) I am always making suggestions about how a book can be materially and stylistically enhanced. I’m doing some editing for Unthank at the moment and have annotated some pieces and asked for them to be resubmitted. Editors in publishing houses used to do this. It’s because they don’t anymore that we have so many creative writing courses and literary consultancies.

Let's talk about your current novel: Touching the Starfish is a fictional account about a writer, Nathan Flack who thinks he is haunted by a ghost called James O'Mailer. Is your character bonkers, or is he really haunted?
To answer that candidly would give away the end of the story! All I should say is confirm that, yes, that’s the premise. You need to read the last two parts of Starfish for a proper answer.
Starfish opens like a non-fiction how-to-write-a-novel book. Can you talk us through this process?
My basic idea for Touching the Starfish was for it to be a sort of Book Group style light comedy in which Nathan is forced to teach a group of eccentric students. It was easy then to structure the story around a course and give each part the name of the study topic, like Plot or Point of View. In each of these parts, Nathan would give some sort of (hapless) lecture on the topic at hand and in some places more emphasis would be given to the device, i.e. lots of talking in the Dialogue chapter. It’s really an organizing tool but it does mean you get a free textbook with your novel. If I could have wedged in a travel guide or car manual as well it could have been the perfect 3-for-2-table book. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I’d be rolling in it.

The book is funny. Did you mean it to be, or did it change its direction half way through?
It was intended to be funny. I’ve always found it hard to relax when I write or when I give readings unless I get a laugh. Here, I did want there to be four or five funny lines or phrases per page. What did change the novel during the process was the more or less spontaneous inclusion of footnotes and a ghost character. These just occurred when I was writing the opening chapter and I ran with them. I didn’t really want to write a novel about teaching creative writing to start with and did it to amuse some friends initially. I suppose I was subverting the whole idea of a Book Group-style light comedy and I started to think of it as the least commercial novel imaginable. I didn’t quite anticipate that people were going to find it quite so funny, though I’m relieved that they do.
How many drafts?
There were two. It took quite a while to write the first draft, three years, but I write very methodically, going over and over each page until it reads like publishable prose. It then took me about three months to do the second. draft I diidn’t cut too many scenes and found myself only really making the first chapter better ground what happens later. This hasn’t always been my experience with drafting.

Did you self edit/self proof read considering your baskground, or did you get it professionally checked over?
Actually, we did it ourselves. It's quite a steep learning curve because when it's your own work and you know that you can spell the easy words correctly you forget that you can still mistype. The first edition of Starfish has a 'shorts' car where there should be a 'sports' car. Given that, if it's your own work I would suggest getting a fresh pair of eyes to proof it.

This is your debut novel, but do you have other unpublished books tucked away somewhere?
Oh yes, there are four earlier novels. I wrote two in my twenties that received very enthusiastic rejection letters from editors.: “Potentially prize-winning author, writes like Donna Tartt but less good, show me what the does next bla bla bla”. My third novel got through this obstacle with a couple of big publishers but if the editors liked the book the sales people said it wasn’t ‘big’ enough to launch a season. My next book was by far the most mature, commercial and likeable, I think (it made some girls cry but in a good way, if you know what I mean), but I couldn’t even get anyone to read it. If this hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t have written Touching the Starfish. It was a strange fifteen years getting here but I think I pulled something out of the fire towards the end.
How many "real life" incidents did you put into Starfish?
None really. The incidents are gross exaggerations of things that might have happened. What is drawn from real life is the atmosphere that Nathan lives in. His flat, for example, is pretty much the semi-uninhabitable frost bucket I was living in when I started to write the book. The spine of the book concerns Nathan's attempts not to be the Chosen One in a supernatural conspiracy story that he doesn’t approve of. That’s not autobiographical, I’m afraid. I did make that bit up.

Do you write straight onto the computer, or do you research first, get the idea perfect in your head and then type away?
I do write directly into the computer, though strangely once I finished Starfish I started writing longhand in pencil again (though this was in winter and it was too cold to stay in the house so I wrote in cafes, something I’d never done before). Usually, when the sun is shining, I spend quite a long time making notes and busking ideas before I turn the computer on. I usually describe to myself what I am going to write, then type it up. The next day I’ll edit this passage before I write anything new. It builds up slowly. I do plan a lot. Even my paragraphs have plans
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a series of twelve stories called The Syllabus of Errors. They’re loosely connected or overlap but not in a Cloud Atlas way. I am also writing a sequel to Starfish called SubGrubStreet as a blog. Nathan can’t ignore the internet forever.

Is it in the same vein as Starfish?
SubGrubStreet obviously is in the same vein but the short stories are mixed. There are some historical stories set before World War Two and some contemporary ones that are more hard-edged than Starfish. Then again, the sort of too-well-read, windmill-tilting male character that I used in Starfish does crop up a lot. There’s also one story that uses footnotes to tell itself which is pretty much in the same vein as the novel. If I concentrated on only one form or tone I’d get bored. Some days I’m happy to gaze out of the window. Some days I want to put a brick through it.
Will you use Unthank Books again? How did you find them?
I certainly will. I was very lucky, really. I knew Robin Jones, Unthank’s founder, because he had been my agent in the past. It was very serendipitous.
When will the next novel be finished?
Well, The Syllabus will be finished this year. Ive just written the penultimate story so theres only one to go. Next year Im intending to start another novel. Ive got some plans. I am likely to muck about again and follow in the same vein as Starfish.

Any last words/anything else you want to share?
Writing fiction is a state of mind rather than a career. I think this is what a lot of beginners forget and it

Is there a link for your Literary Consultancy?
Yes, there is. TLC, the original and the best: http://www.literaryconsultancy.co.uk/

Read the Eastern Daily Press review: http://bit.ly/ddcTgo of Touching the Starfish.

Touching the Starfish is mostly described as a comic novel and metafiction. Check out Amazon for reviews and others on Stokes' website. There is also a blogged sort-of-sequel, SubGrubStreet to promote Starfish. 

Non-fiction writer Jacqui Murray

Jacqui Murray

Meet techno non-fiction writer, Jacqui Murray, born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, another in Russian and an MBA, she spent twenty years in a variety of industries while raising two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. Now, she lives with her husband, adult son and two beautiful Labradors. She writes how-books, five blogs on everything from the Naval Academy to tech to science, as well as a column for the Examiner on tech tips. She's one busy lady...

Tell us about your current book?
I have written a how-to book for high schoolers on getting into the Naval Academy. When my daughter wanted a book on how to get into USNA, all she could find were books that told her how hard it was, how selective they were, how very few could achieve it. My daughter brushed them off, but I wondered how many kids would be discouraged by that approach and decided to write a book explaining how to achieve the goal, not why kids couldn’t. I stressed how teens can solve the problems that stood in their way rather than why they couldn’t, how they could get where they wanted to go rather than why they couldn’t get there. That worked for my daughter and I had no doubt it would work for others. From what I hear from readers, it’s true.

My eight tech workbooks for K-8 are the same. When I went back to teaching a decade ago, I could find no workbooks for teaching technology. There were how-tos, but not geared for younger students. So I decided to write them. I geared the books for parents with nominal computer skills, homeschoolers and lab specialists. It outlines the method I use in my classes that gets kids from the most basics of computer skills in kindergarten to Photoshop by fifth grade. I’m not surprised that the method works, and is now being used in school districts all over the country.

Why that genre?
If we are to belief that old saw, Write what you know, that is my answer. I love computers, love shining a bright light on them for kids, so here I am. Writing books about them. In fiction, my genre is techno-thrillers. What a surprise, hunh? I love the sizzle of technology.

What gives you the motivation to write this particular genre?
I think the more kids understand technology and realize it isn’t complicated, pretty intuitive actually, the more they’ll embrace it throughout their education. Like reading, it makes learning so much easier than the lack of it.

Have you tried to write in another field?
You mean like chick lit? No, just not me. The people who write chick lit, or literary fiction are probably called to it, as I am to techno-thrillers.

Is your book a stand-alone or part of a series?
My tech books are designed as a guideline for learning from Kindergarten through fifth grade. You start with the first and work through to the end. You can start in the middle, but it’s not as effective. Skills are missed or become more difficult because the student doesn’t have the background.

What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on a fiction novel, To Hunt a Sub. PhD candidate and single mom Kali Delamagente has something in common with Albert Einstein: They both regret their inventions. His changed the world and hers is on a train-wreck course to destroy it. It starts when her brainchild, a supercomputer named Otto, accidentally uncovers a foolproof way to steal military secrets. Kali’s brilliant friend, Cat, persuades her to enter Otto in a contest, the same one where Cat will unveil her undetectable DNA-based computer virus. It’s no surprise both inventions catch the attention of America’s enemies. Their goal: hijack America’s Trident subs, the most advanced military platforms in the world.

Enter Zeke Rowe, ex-SEAL-turned-anthropology professor. Though he doesn’t believe Otto can find the Tridents’ covert hiding places or that Cat’s virus can hijack them, he soon learns how wrong he is. When Kali’s son is kidnapped, the threat becomes all too real. Now she faces a moral dilemma: Is one life worth that of a nation? Because no answer is acceptable, Kali, Cat and Zeke band together to regain control of America’s most clandestine secrets.

What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?
I have an excerpt available on Scribd.com Please—log it and check it out. I’ve had over 3600 reads since I posted it a few months ago.

What is the very first novel, or partial you have written?
My first fiction novel was about a band of early men (I have an excerpt on Scribd), circa two million years ago. I have great respect for man’s roots and wanted to share early man’s life style, mostly how he survived those feral times. To keep it from being a narrative treatise, I couched the biography in the traits of fiction—characterization, plot line, story arc, etc. I’ve grown from there.
What came first, fiction or non-fiction?
Non-fiction came first. Building a Midshipman was from a passion to share my daughter’s experience in her successful USNA application process. My technology workbooks were necessity—I couldn’t find any textbooks for my tech classes! No file drawer of unfinished stories. I have several finished novels which I will edit at some point in the future, but that’s it.

Do you have an agent, or have you gone alone? (If agented please give names, if not please tell us a little about your journey into SP.
No agent, but some definite interest in the book. I have a short list of people who have expressed an interest, so I will send it to them first when I’m finished. I hope they enjoy it!

Who is your publisher, or who do you SP with?
My non-fiction books are published by Structured Learning.

Where can you be contacted?
Anyone interested in reaching me, the best way is through my publisher, Structured Learning or email me at AskATechTeacher@structuredlearning.net My Twitter handle is twitter@askatechteacher. My writing tips blog is WordDreams. I also write a column for Examiner.com. I invite everyone to read that, add comments, follow me!

And where can we find your books?
  • My six technology workbooks are available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on Scribd.com. 
  • My two computer lab toolkits are available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on Scribd.com. 
  • Building a Midshipman is available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on Scribd.com. 
  • If you’re interested in To Hunt a Cruiser, leave a comment on my WordDreams blog and I’ll let you know when it’s out.
  • My Building a Midshipman site is USNA or Bust. 
  • My Computer Lab Toolkit and Technology Workbooks site is Ask a Tech Teacher
Lastly, can you leave us with a summary of two of your books?

Building a Midshipman: How to Conquer the USNA Application.

There are lots of how-to books on getting in the Naval Academy, but they’re quite dry and impersonal. Mine is from the perspective of a woman who did it (my daughter!) and how she accomplished such a lofty goal. It’s very down-to earth and should give confidence to any teen, male or female, considering a military academy as their college of choice. Here’s the blurb I have on Amazon:

You don't have to be a miracle-worker to the 10% of applicants accepted to a military academy, but you do need a plan. For the thousands of students who apply every year--and slog through the numbing concatenation of decisions preceding a nomination--there is no greater discouragement than the likely event that they will fail. This, though, is the Board's peek into an applicant's moral fiber and an important ingredient to the go/no go decision. In the words of James Stockdale, USNA '46 and Medal of Honor Winner: "The test of character is not 'hanging in there' when you expect a light at the end of the tunnel, but performance of duty and persistence of example when you know that no light is coming." This is the true story of Maggie Schmidt, an All-American kid who dreamt of attending the Naval Academy when her research into the typical Midshipman uncovered a profile alarmingly like herself. This book describes her background and academic interests, her focus, as well as her struggle to put together a winning admissions package. Along the way, you gain insight into the moral fiber that grounds everything she does and the decisions she must make that some consider impossible for an adolescent, but are achievable for thousands of like-minded teens. This workbook walks you through the long process, provides check lists of everything required, decision making matrices, goal-setting exercises to determine if USNA is a good fit for you, and a mix of motivation and academic advice to balance a decision that rightfully might be the biggest one most teens have ever made. See the publisher's website at structuredlearning.net for more details.
 55 Technology Projects for the Digital Classroom.

The all-in-one K-8 toolkit for the lab specialist, classroom teacher and homeschooler, with a years-worth of simple-to-follow projects. Integrate technology into language arts, geography, history, problem solving, research skills, and science lesson plans and units of inquiry using teacher resources that meet NETS-S national guidelines and many state standards. The fifty-five projects are categorized by subject, program (software), and skill (grade) level. Each project includes standards met in three areas (higher-order thinking, technology-specific, and NETS-S), software required, time involved, suggested experience level, subject area supported, tech jargon, step-by-step lessons, extensions for deeper exploration, troubleshooting tips and project examples including reproducibles. Tech programs used are KidPix, all MS productivity software, Google Earth, typing software and online sites, email, Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, internet start pages, social bookmarking and photo storage), Photoshop and Celestia. Also included is an Appendix of over 200 age-appropriate child-friendly websites. Skills taught include collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, creativity, digital citizenship, information fluency, presentation, and technology concepts. In short, it's everything you'd need to successfully integrate technology into the twenty-first century classroom. See the publisher's website at structuredlearning.net for free downloads and more details.