Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Bookclub Niche




 By Liza Perrat


It’s no secret. Like many authors, I dislike the marketing side of writing. However, we all know that in today’s competitive marketplace, there’s no shying away from this aspect of the book business.

“Find your niche,” the marketing gurus say. “You can’t pursue them all, so choose what suits you.”

“Like Twitter?” I say.

Despite regularly dipping my toes in the vast Twitter Sea, I’m not convinced of its efficacy. “Buy my book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, “Read my 5-star reviews novel!” certainly turns me off quicker than mouldy fish. I am not about to do the same.

“Facebook then?”

“So, bang on and on about my novels, alienating my FB friends and family?”
And the thought of having a FB author page seems like just one more thing to keep up with, to take away my writing time.

Don't even mention any other of the myriad of marketing and networking platforms available today. I simply don’t have the inclination.

So, what other marketing and networking choices are there?

Well, there is the Bookclub. Just over a year ago, rather than discovering this myself, the ‘Bookclub Niche’ found me.


When I published my first novel in May 2012, I’d wanted to explore the possibility of speaking at bookclubs, but as I live in a rural French village, there were, for obvious reasons, no English-language bookclubs close by. Then, right before my annual pilgrimage home to Australia last Christmas, a friend who had read Spirit of Lost Angels (first in the L’Auberge des Anges trilogy) contacted me.

“All the girls in my reading group have read your book. Would you like to come to our Bookclub Christmas party and talk about it?”

“Oh yes, that would be nice,” I said, thinking, You bet I would!

Knowing only one member of this group, I was a bit nervous when I showed up and saw them all clutching copies of Spirit of Lost Angels. My fingers shook a little as I passed out copies of my carefully-prepared Question/Answer sheet, and I realised this was a serious group of demanding and unforgiving readers. But after several bottles of bubbly and some tasty food, the mood certainly lightened up and everyone, including me, was soon chattering away.






They asked questions about the writing and research process and gave me some excellent feedback on points they did and did not like about the book. I filed it all away for my next novel, when I was considering the story from the reader’s point of view.

And you know what, it was Great Fun!

An old school-friend from a different bookclub (Bulli bookclub) had also contacted me around the same time. Still serious readers, this group was entirely different, and, after a short time speaking about Spirit of Lost Angels, we spent the evening drinking Margaritas and eating pizza.

So, different groups of people, different dynamics, but again … Great Fun.

Word travels fast in the city of Wollongong, New South Wales, and this year the Keiraville bookclub asked me to come and speak about Spirit of Lost Angels.


 
 
 

An excellent lunch of fine food and wine provided the backdrop for an in-depth discussion about where story ideas come from, how I organise my writing and research schedule (what schedule?), and how long it takes to write a book. I answered their questions eagerly and we spent hours talking about novels in general – our likes and dislikes – which, as an avid reader, I found most inspiring. I signed their copies of Spirit of Lost Angels, and passed around our Triskele Books bookmarks. I also spoke about the other Triskele books, and handed out my colleagues’ bookmarks in a sly bit of team-promotion.


The other evening, the Bulli girls again invited me to join them for more Margaritas and pizza at Ryan’s Pub, to talk about my second novel in L’Auberge des Anges trilogy, Wolfsangel.


Of particular interest was the true World War 2 crime that inspired Wolfsangel.


“What’s next?” they asked.

I told them a little about Midwife Héloïse – Blood Rose Angel, the final book in L’Auberge des Anges historical trilogy.

So, if this type of marketing/networking appeals to you, you might be wondering how one finds willing bookclubs.

The most obvious place to start is with friends. An internet search will probably show up local bookclubs. Or just ask around your local area. So many people enjoy reading groups these days, and will jump at the chance to have an author speak at one of their meetings. Perhaps offer a free copy of your book to a group member, and a speaking event, if they would consider it for their club. No obligation of course!

Take along your promo material: bookmarks, postcards, whatever you have. I’m trying to convince my Triskele colleagues to get pens or mugs or something made up, to hand out at events like this. People love goodie bags.

Prepare copies of a Q/A sheet or a study guide to hand around. This post by my Triskele colleague, JJ Marsh will help you to make a study guide. Some groups will welcome this, others won’t be bothered. As I said … different groups, different dynamics.

If the event is successful, send a collective email thanking the people for inviting you, and offer to attend a future session for your next book. If possible, and appropriate, keep contact with the group afterwards.

“So, do you still hate marketing and networking?”

I enjoy meeting new people and eager readers. I get to rave on about my books without my audience yawning or playing on their mobile phone. I spread the word about my novels, and those of my colleagues, to willing listeners. I’m gaining a readership, person by person, and isn’t that what they say about marketing: it’s no sprint, but a marathon?

So, nope, I love it!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Google + (Part Two) - The How & the When


Part Two – How & When.

Since I have been on this G+ journey of discovery, the biggest query most people have is a lack of understanding. Numerous writers have admitted signing up to the service, only to stand on the sidelines peering in, unsure what to do next. I think this is something Google may need to address, and I’ll go into details later about the online help you can access to guide you through the initial process. It’s all there, and is more than adequate, I just don’t feel it’s particularly user-friendly.

 

So, here I shall try and simplify and condense the main rules you need to make a start on G+.



HOW TO NAVIGATE  YOUR WAY AROUND G+

So, you’ve got your password, accessed the G+ logo on your Google dashboard, and you’re all set. If you have a Gmail account you may find many of your profile details, including your user name, will auto-populate. When you log in you will be taken to your Home Page. Once you have added friends (see below) you will be greeted here by a display of your friends' latest blogs (collated via Blogger of course), their latest posts and updates and a general news feed – plus a chance for you to post your own quick updates. It may look a bit empty for now, but it will fill up nicely as you use G+ and interact with other users, and it will usually offer you a steady stream of people you may know due to your existing contacts or shared interests.
Navigating your way around G+ is quite easy. Everything revolves around the drop down menu on the left- hand side of your screen. When you click (on Home) you should be presented with a number of options:
PROFILE -  This is the area where you complete as much information as you want available. It’s also rather like a blog page where you can post daily updates (think of your Facebook home page) So, if you want to tell everyone what you had for breakfast or boast about your daily word count, this is the place.

PEOPLE – This is one of the most important areas. Advice seems to be that increasing your G+ ‘readers’ is crucial to getting the best out of the medium. And before we proceed, here I must introduce you to Circles. Probably the biggest (and arguably most beneficial) of the differences G+ offers over other social media platforms.
Circles or Circling is a way of organising your followers or friends. How you do it will very much depend on what you want from G+. So, in the People section, you are presented with a number of options. Find People (searching for those with similar likes or shared friends) Have You in Circles (people who have included you in their circles) Your Circles (People you have chosen) Discover (Popular sites, categorised into interests)

I’d suggest you look at Your Circles first. Here you can search (via your address book or Gmail account) for people to add. You then either add them to your Circles, or if not on G+, send invites to ask them to join your network and when they accept you can organise them into relevant Circles. For example, for writers these may include – friends, family, readers, bloggers, colleagues. The beauty of taking the time to separate your followers is that you can update and share posts with specific groups. So, for example, let’s say you’re a member of a Book Club, you could include other members in a Book Club 'Circle', and only update them on the date of your next event, rather than informing the rest of your followers who aren’t remotely interested. You can also choose to make only certain Circles visible in your stream on your Home Page. So, if you only want to see your friends' posts when you log on, this can be amended in settings.
PHOTO – This is basically an online photograph album that if you have a Blogger site will already be populated with photos you’ve saved there. Otherwise you can organise uploaded photos to use.

The above are the main categories to navigate around the site. Below that there is a second list – What’s Hot (Display of the day’s hottest sites, blogs, links, videos) / Communities (Display of G+ groups you may be interested in based on your settings, likes and friends)  / Events (Ability to make an Online Invitation to share among friends) / Hang Outs (Ability to run Video Chats, either private, or join public chats) / Pages (Ability to create a Page – eg like an Author Page on FB for your business or interests)  / Local (More for business use, links you to local contacts and links your businesses to others in area)  / Settings (Managing account).
HOW TO UNDERSTAND G+
Also in this drop down under Home, you can access the online G+ Help. This is in very tiny print at the bottom of the menu. Despite difficulty in finding it, it actually offers a lot of information, although I imagine many users do not even know it is there. It shows you in simple steps how to send posts, create pages, interact with other users and a lot more. And there is even a tour that uses a kind of Wizard to guide you around G+, explaining benefits and features. I’d suggest any newbie spends an hour or so familiarising themselves with these interactive tools as they are really beneficial. There is also an option to join a G+ Circle where members explain changes or features and there's also a G+ Help hash tag so you can yell at any time if you're in a fix and someone will assist.

The other main point to get right are your Posts. In a similar fashion to Facebook's latest security updates, you have the ability to share your posts with Specific Circles, Extended Circles or Public (ie anyone who has included you in one of their Circles.) Unlike Twitter, here you have a 100,000 character limit, so although your scope is wider, it still pays to quickly learn to be brief and interesting. It very much depends what you want from G+ but as we are viewing this as a potential marketing tool for authors, the same rules apply as Facebook and Twitter. Repeat posts, but never make a nuisance, check timings so you hit readers at the right time, add hashtags if necessary, and provide a link to your source if you're re-posting others' posts.
With G+ a symbol called +Mentioning works in much the same way as the @ symbol on Twitter. If you add + in front of a name at start of a post, it works as sending them a direct message. Or if you post in the body of a public text, it shares the post with them. A handy tip is that if you add a + or @ in front of a regular email address, G+ will send the post. This is a clever way of attracting new followers onto G+.

Two other points about Posts. There are services that offer auto posts, much as auto retweets in Twitter. 'Do Share' for example, enables you to draft and schedule posts for set times. Also, like RT on Twitter, G+ have 'Ripples' which show you how many people have shared your public posts. To access, click on the arrow at top right of your posts, and View Ripples. Through Ripples you can also access cross promotion, where your posts can be organised to post on your other social media sites consecutively which removes the burden of multi-posting.
So, choose your readers, click on the box, write your text, add your links and photos and ... Get Posting!
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR G+ AUDIENCE
So, once you’ve dedicated your time, created your profile, added your photographs, mastered sending Posts, connected with other users and organised your Circles … then what?

I asked the same question and have spent the past couple of weeks trying to ‘use’ the resource to its full potential and I’ll be honest I don’t think I’ve got anywhere near scratching the surface. I'm currently looking at how to increase my followers outside of my normal circle of friends and associates.
Many of the normal social media etiquette applies - Have a good profile; Share good content; Share your posts in public not private; Add your G+ badge to your website and blog; Help others; Invite others to join; Seek out Circles who like the same topics as you do and build new networks of like-minded people. With these ideas in mind, just make a start, write posts and begin circulating and seeking out people and topics that interest you. Before long, you see your Circled number and follower number increase, and your network begins to grow.
I think G+ like most things in life only gives back as much as you put in. And there's no denying there are lots of slight differences you need to master before you are completely competent, but in general most things are similar to other social networking - and the site itself, once you can navigate yourself around successfully, is easy to use, not to mention bright and entertaining. So, play around, have a browse, click links and see where they take you. Some will appeal, others will not - I've not taken the plunge yet with Hang Outs for example. But I like seeing News and Weather updates when I log in. I like seeing new suggested contacts and a resume of my followers' posts. I feel comfortable with the whole set up, and while I'm sure G+ attracts its fair share of trolls and idiots, I also believe at the moment it's adding a new, refreshing and altogether more interesting face to online communication and marketing. And that with a little time investment, it will offer a new face for networking and marketing for authors.

In the last of my posts on G+ I shall report on my first full month on the site and compile a list of Top Tips that will add to your overall experience.
For those who are going to give G+ a go and would like more detailed information, I can recommend What the Plus! by Guy Kawasaki which is packed full of advice on every aspect of G+.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The 7th Day, by Nika Lubitsch



The 7th Day – Nika Lubitsch

Review by JJ Marsh

Nika Lubitsch’s Germany-set crime novel is a page-turning adventure that sticks in your mind.
Sybille is on trial for her husband’s murder. While on trial, as witnesses queue up to defame the once-glamorous darling of the society pages, flashbacks tell the story up till now. The structure is reminiscent of Memento, as our central character, and the reader, try to make sense of what has happened. The question also arises, can we trust our narrator?

As her lawyer, Ulli, battles to prove her innocence over six days of legal proceedings, Sybille recalls how she met Michael, their life together and how it all fell apart in such spectacular fashion. The young heady days of falling in love, the resilience of their romance in overcoming obstacles, their joys and triumphs are believable and enjoyable.
So well are Lubitsch’s characters drawn, that you feel you know them as good friends. So when Sybille’s world collapsed, I found myself saying, ‘But how could he? That’s just not like him.’
The clues are expertly woven and the tension increases over this taut, lean thriller till we discover the truth of the tale on the seventh day. The ending is atmospheric and exciting, not to mention brilliantly executed.
Unsurprisingly, a Kindle bestseller.

One of my favourite elements of this books was the use of setting. Berlin society comes vividly to life and after I put the book down, I started planning my next mini-break. This is the perfect book for a long train journey, as it’s short enough to devour in one sitting. But woe betide anyone who tries to talk to you before you get to the end.


Interview with Nika Lubitsch

Nika Lubitsch lives in Berlin, while her soul lives in Florida. Having been rejected by all German publishers, The 7th Day was at the top of the bestselling list only one week after its publication at Kindle, surpassing even 50 Shades of Grey. The novel stayed number one in Germany for 100 days, making Nika Lubitsch the most successful KDP author of the year in 2012. 'The Queen of E-Books', as a major German magazine dubbed her, again landed a number one hit in the Kindle charts with her second mystery Das 5. Gebot (The Fifth Commandment). A major production company has already bought the film rights. The 7th Day is currently translated by publishers throughout the world. 

The first thing that appealed to me about The 7th Day was the unusual structure. A woman on trial for the murder of her husband, the tension happens both in the present and via a series of flashbacks. Why did you choose this format?

I like stories that aren´t told in a chronological order. In a mystery a person´s life is supposed to take a course that makes murder inevitable. If you start out by describing the wonderful life a protagonist has, the story usually ends up being so utterly boring. Therefore, I need the murder to happen at the very start to pique the readers´ curiosity, because they then will ask themselves how the protagonist might have ended up in trouble to begin with. For me, suspense is created by opposition and the clash of the ways the different characters assess a situation.

One of the features of Triskele Books and our Bookclub is the role of place in the story. The 7th Day is rooted powerfully in Berlin. Which elements, for you, really bring a location to life?

I try to write books whose plots are based partly on their locations. My stories can´t just be transplanted to different cities or countries. Berlin offers a lot of options: the city´s not always so squeaky-clean history, its legacy issues after two world wars and Sovjet occupation, its isolated location in the middle of another state with a different jurisdiction, its vicinity to the Polish border – all these factors give a spark to unique plots. Besides its history and politics, it´s also its typical streets and squares that mark the city´s character. Berlin is very large and its neighborhoods sometimes differ from each other as if they were located on continents apart. On the one hand you have Zehlendorf, a neighborhood of stately mansions, copper beeches, imposing art nouveau town houses, and enchanted lakes. But there also is Neukölln, home of the largest Turkish community outside of Istanbul. By the way, I had a letter from a reader who knew exactly where my “secret location” is. He was able to name the country as well as the site of the pink house and confirmed that it is possible to simply disappear in this area, just as I have described it. Thus, I must have done something right. All my books take place not only in Berlin but also in other, sometimes exotic, countries, the condition, however, being that I must have either lived or at least have visited there (like, for example, Guyana in my book The 5th Commandment).

There is an immense confidence about your writing – the way you switch from present to past tense, your use of the second person for part of the narrative – can you tell us a little about your background in writing?

I´ve been writing since I´ve been old enough to hold a pen. Professionally, I worked as a journalist as well as a PR officer and copywriter and also wrote a number of non-fiction books. Of course, I have also looked into the theorie of creative writing over the years and am a fervent believer in Sol Stein. However, I love to break rules and have noticed, for example, that I happen to like narrative passages in books. For me it depends on the narrator´s keynote. But in order to ignore rules, you have to know them first.

Your research into German police and judicial procedures seems extensive. How did you go about learning the way the system worked?


Researching police matters was a rather frustrating affair. That´s because German police keep their cards close to their chests. “Just write your book the way you think it´s right. When your manuscript is ready, you can mail it to us and we´ll look for mistakes.” Therefore, I left the police where they belong: at the precinct. The department of corrections was much more cooperative in this respect. The warden of the correctional facility in Pankow showed me around the place for a number of hours. I was allowed to talk to the inmates, be present when their children came to see them, watch them at work bagging perfume samples, and participate in their music lesson. What really knocked me over was the fact that the warden seemed to be somehow sympathetic with her inmates, who were there on remand. She told me about some women, whose cases really made her angry at our judicial system. The press office at the criminal court also was very helpful. I was able to witness some murder trials. However, I have a little legal background myself, because I have a couple of terms at law school under my belt, with criminal law having been about the only thing that fascinated me. Among my friends there are one of the most famous German defense lawyers and also a notary, which meant that these matters were the least of my problems. The translation into English worried me much more, as our legal procedures are very different from those in the US. With Karin Dufner I had the support of a very competent woman. Karin even used to translate legal documents for a living and was able to furnish some explanations, as she knows her way around both systems.

You chose to publish independently and rapidly became a German Kindle Bestseller. What made you decide to do it yourself?

The decision wasn´t really my choice. Even though I never had a problem to convince renowned publishing houses to publish my works of non-fiction, not a soul was interested in my novels. It simply costs less money to publish a translation than to invest effort into developing a new author. Ten years ago The 7th Day was rejected by all major publishers of mystery fiction which led to the manuscript gathering cobwebs on my hard drive. As curiosity is one of my traits, I just tried out KDP last summer with my short stories, which I had been writing for years to stay in practice. And, lo and behold, the book sold quite well. Therefore, I unearthed The 7th Day, dusted it off, moved the plot ten years ahead into the future, and uploaded it. Five days later I was on the top of the best selling list, where my book remained for three months. I think nobody was more surprised than I was.

Some reviews I’ve read surprised me by finding the sexual content rather strong. I found the sex scenes entirely appropriate for the age and enthusiasm of Sybille. To me, it also says a lot about her partners. Have such reviews changed the way you write?

Some days ago the a feuilleton writer with the “Zeit”, THE German intellectual weekly paper, wanted to know why I resorted to proletarian language so much. After all, my protagonists are professionals with academic credentials. As an example, he quoted the term “poppen” (which isn´t quite as harsh as “screw” but on roughly the same stylistic level). My answer was that I only moved in academic circles and still never met anyone who´d use the word “intercourse” when talking about sexual relations.

Would you ever write anything other than mystery and crime?

Yes, of course. Under my real name I write funny, ironic books of non-fiction in the tradition of Nora Ephron, who, by the way, was my great idol. I also wrote a wonderful book together with my husband which I´ll soon publish under yet another pseudonym. It´s a book of social fiction that is set in the near future. Today, we even have a genre term for it: dystopy. The kinds of books I definitely  won´t ever write are romance novels, erotic novels, and - never, ever - historic novels.

What factors propelled you to the top of the Kindle charts in Germany?

The cover just screams at you, the title is catching, and story has an interesting beginning. More than 1,100 positive reviews help, of course.

You say you live in Berlin but your soul lives in Florida – why?

In 1997 I first went to Cape Coral. And while I was there, my soul just settled next to a pelican on top of the bridge over the Caloosahatchi. When it was time to leave four weeks later, I asked my soul whether it wanted to come along. It just shook its head. Since that day I, of course, have to return in regular intervals to check on it. This winter I´ll spend six months in Cape Coral for the first time. That´s been my dream for years, and since I´m now able to work anywhere thanks to writing, it finally has become true. There were times I just couldn´t get away from Berlin. We were homesick for Cape Coral so much that we made Florida the location of our social fiction thriller, which has the preliminary title “Alligator Valley”. This way we have been able to spend every evening with our protagonists in the independent Senior Citizens´ Republic of Southwest Florida.

I’ve discovered lots of German-speaking authors in translation since moving to Switzerland, such as Wolf Haas and Dürrenmatt. Which writers would you recommend?

I love Sebastian Fitzek, a very nice Berlin mystery colleague, who writes devious thrillers.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Google + (Part One) ... The What and the Why.


Part One - What & Why

 

A random collection of factors came together recently to persuade me that learning the basics of Google + (henceforth known as G+) was worth an investment of my time.

  • I've read a number of predictions on blogs and press reports announcing G+ is THE place for author networking in 2014.
  • A conversation in a writing forum where I'm a member. Two writers thought they'd each been blocked by the other on Facebook as they no longer saw each other's posts. I suddenly realised I'd not seen recent posts from them either, yet, when checking their feeds discovered they were indeed both posting daily.
  • An increasing frustration with numbers on Facebook. Triskele Books, have over 300 followers to their page, yet on average less than 30 friends view each post (unless it has numerous shares) and sometimes that is down into single figures. For example, a recent book giveaway attracted dozens of entries via a weekend of posts on Twitter but not one single entry over the same time frame on Facebook.
Items two and three pushed me into investigating further and I discovered the phenomenon of 'Facebook Insights' - the ability to view measurements and statistics on your page - also has the power to place a restriction on your posts, limiting who is able to view them. On average I learned that only 12% of your friends actually get to see your updates. While I've no proof this figure is accurate, it almost exactly mirrors my own findings. Yes, there could be numerous reasons (not following Most Recent threads, not online, etc.) But I'm under no illusion that the main reason is that every time Facebook asks you if you'd like to pay to 'Boost' your views, it's holding back circulation in the hope it can make extra cash out of promoting on your behalf. How else could it offer to boost your updates when you have a finite number of friends/follows?

Hmmm. Not particularly fair or helpful you might be thinking if you hope to be communicating with hundreds, or thousands, of potential new readers. And you'd be right. Imagine your excitement when announcing your new cover, or latest five star review, to your eager audience - to discover only nine people actually saw your post and you didn't have a single Like or Share?

So, if Facebook isn't providing the service you thought you were getting, what's to say any other provider would differ? After all, we're living in the 'no one gives you anything for nothing' age, aren’t we?

One of the main benefits I found with G+ is that 100% of your friends and follows see your updates, not only that but you can organise and group followers, and select particular groups (called Circles) to update separately. This may prove useful if you have a wide range of contacts. For example, it may help on occasion to only post updates to genre writers, or indie authors, or writing groups or close contacts and family. G+ gives you this flexibility without having to set up separate Pages.

I’ve also researched G+ for Business Users. Writers increasingly, and especially indie-authors, most definitely fall under that category. There must be good reason why many businesses are now turning to G+ to promote their services. There are numerous resources and training plans offered online, but key benefits seem to include:
  • It’s rapid expansion – According to sources the fastest growing network resource ever.
  • It’s more active than you think – Over 135 million active users, 60% of which log in daily.
  • It influences search rankings – G+ Shares (called +1s) act as recommendations and influence what searchers see while logged in.
  • It improves your search engine presence – All G+ posts are indexed immediately increasing chances of visibility.
  • It offers 100% visibility - No extra costs to have posts 'boosted'.
  • It allows authored content – Enables you to link updates automatically to your website or blog.
  • It allows for local searches – You can set up a Local page (or merge into main one) so people who make regional specific searches are directed to your site.
  • Newly launched G+ Communities gives your clients, readers, followers a place to mingle and research your products. It’s a great way to get feedback and engage with followers in a meaningful way, with the options to post Public or Private messages.
So, how can any of this help you, specifically from a writing aspect? And before you groan and imagine where you're going to find another few spare hours a day to update yet another social network, let's examine a few key facts, and most importantly discuss what you - as a writer - hope to gain out of the hours you spend promoting and sharing posts online. I think it's important to spend a little time in examining the big players in social networking and deciding what, if anything, G+ can add to the mix for you. If the answer is nothing, fine, it's one more thing to cross of your to-do list.

Putting G+ aside, looking at Social Media from a writer's viewpoint, I categorise as follows:
  • Twitter : Real Time (Events and promotions)
  • Facebook : People (Updates and keeping in touch)
  • Pinterest : Pictures (Online bulletin board)
Where does G+ fit in? Well, after playing around with the site, and reading lots of research, I'd suggest Communication.

Is this something that would be useful to me? Well, yes of course. More so probably than telling my friends (or approximately 12% of them anyway) what I was watching on television that evening. Or boring the same 12% of my followers with the same news over and over.
If your answer to the question - do you want to enhance and expand your audience? - is yes (and which right-minded author would reply with a no?) then I believe G+ is the place to focus your attention.

And also this is Google. GOOGLE. I am as much of a Google junkie as I am Apple. I use Google Chrome as my main search engine. I use Gmail. Find Google Drive particularly useful. Regularly rely on Google Maps. And ADORE Google Earth. And while I'm probably a bit old to be drawn into the world of You Tube, I recognise its appeal and success.
So, why would I doubt the validity or success of G+? I've no doubt that if G+ had been launched five years ago alongside Twitter and Facebook it would be an industry leader today, but we're not dealing with a level playing field. Not yet. I am sure it's only a matter of time though. As Bradley Horowitz, vice-president of G+ said. "G+ is Google itself. We're extending it across all that we do - search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, You Tube - so that each of those services contribute to our understanding of who you are."

So, what does the future hold for G+? Will it explode like Twitter or implode like My Space? Research would suggest the former and that authors should get onboard now to maximise its full potential.
So, for now, sign yourself up for a Google Account if you don't already have one, find the G+ logo in your GMail inbox or on your Drive dashboard. Log in with your GMail user name and have a nosey around.

In Part Two of my G+ investigation, we will deal with Google + ... How. I'll run through how to get started on G+, pass on some handy tips for getting the full potential from your time, highlight my favourite advantages and look at future opportunities G+ have to offer.



Saturday, 11 January 2014

Things to consider when creating a box set

by JD Smith

Boxset, box set, boxed set, I've been asked to add all three titles to covers when designing them for clients. But regardless of which terminology you prefer, here's a few things to consider when creating your box set.

As yet, other than releasing a series of books as one physical book, there is no option to print on demand publish a series of books. So here's I'm referring to ebook publication only.

The Insides
Many authors argue that a table of contents isn't necessary for fiction, and unless you have front and back matter of interest, I'm personally fairly indifferent to the idea of having a list of chapters in a table of contents. However, for books created as a box set, it's vital. Books making up an ebook box set are contained in one document, and the only way to navigate from one book to another is to have a table of contents directing readers to the title page of each book.

You can also trim down front and back matter, having a combined copyright page, dedication, acknowledgements and a single page at the back of the set with links to other books and author website and social media.

The Cover
Many box sets, even ebook box sets, have a 3D cover. However, many people design their 3D covers with a white background:


Great in theory, but whilst a 3D boxset can be published successfully through retailers like Amazon, some other retailers, such as Smashwords and Apple, don't accept them. How do you get around the problem, short of designing a 2D cover?

I spoke to support staff at Smashwords and they/Apple will accept covers which have a 2D element, including the title and author name, which means they will accept a file similar to this:


You still get a great 3D box set image in there, just with the addition of the background and author name/titles. The cover doesn't have to be 3D at all, of course, but it does make a nice differential between single books and sets of books.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Ten Top Tips For How to Organise a Launch Party


We’re writers, not a wedding planners.

So it comes as a surprise, even to us, that Triskele Books and Words with JAM have successfully launched eleven books in the last year. We’ve made a few mistakes and learnt some lessons after organising two real live parties, and here we pass on everything we've discovered - from perfect timing to pink fizz.


1. Location

Triskele writers are based in three countries; Gilly, Jane and Kat are scattered around the UK, Liza and I live in France and Switzerland respectively. So London was the obvious choice – accessible to all.

The 2012 venue was The English Restaurant, in Spitalfields. Between Tracy Emin’s gallery and Jeanette Winterson’s veg shop, it’s easy to find, has a separate function room for 50 people and superb food. The staff couldn’t have been more accommodating.

For 2013, we needed more space. Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road (before the Big Move) had a third floor gallery which can cope with 120-180 guests. David Owen, Gallery manager, is extraordinarily helpful, and book launches are his speciality.

Our November event was part of the Chorleywood  Literary Festival. Here's the full reportage. We liked it so much, we're going back this year!

2. Timing

Six months before you’re planning to publish, check the calendar, literary and general. Our first event coincided with the Queen’s Jubilee, and our second with Crimefest. This meant several guests were unable to attend. Could do better.

Weekends are ideal for obvious reasons, and we’ve found that a Saturday afternoon gives people time to travel home or go for a less formal knees-up afterwards.

Send out a Save the Date email three months ahead, including an ‘RSVP for a formal invitation’ request. That way you have a clearer idea of numbers and can start thinking about practicalities.

3. Guests


Another advantage of a collaborative launch is the broad network. We each invited family and friends, along with other writers (traditionally published, self-published, unpublished), journalists, agents, book bloggers and various industry pros. The hit rate seems to be about 70%.

Yet, even though there were five of us covering the room, we hardly seemed to spend more than a couple of minutes with people. Be prepared for constantly being distracted. It’s a good idea to state there will be a specific signing time – eg, half an hour before the event winds up – so you can spend more time talking (and drinking pink fizz).

4. The event

Three hours seems to be the optimum time for such an event. An hour’s greeting and chatting, 45 minutes of ‘event’ and the rest of the time networking and trying to get to the buffet.

An MC works well – someone who’s not you. We asked writer Lorraine Mace to play host at the first event, while our own Liza Perrat took control this June. If possible, it’s worth rehearsing, to get the logistics right, working with the microphone, and ensuring the music/background noise is not intrusive.

Keep readings short. On our second occasion, which launched An Earthless Melting Pot, the anthology of Words with JAM competition winners, as well as four Triskele releases, we chose to ask only the winners to read. The Triskele authors participated in a brief Q&A, keeping the atmosphere lively, but informative.

5. Food and drink

Overcatering. On both occasions, we ended up throwing food away. Lesson learnt: provide simple nibbles (crisps, nuts, breadsticks), keep the fizz flowing and just let people chat.

Order wine, champagne etc on a returnable basis. That way, you’ll not run out, but unopened bottles will be refunded. Juice, water and soft drinks can be ordered the same way. We used Majestic’s service which includes a Party Planner. 
http://www.majestic.co.uk/Services/Parties

If you’re launching alone, or with authors in a similar genre, you might consider thematically related comestibles. A horror author recently threw an excellent vodka-fuelled bash in a basement, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre flickering on one wall. A group of chicklit authors went with cupcakes and pink champagne on a sunny terrace, decorated with pastel balloons.

6. Books

Order in plenty of time so you know copies will be there on the day. Print a large, clearly visible price list. Bribe a family member to act as salesperson. Provide a float and a record list of how many of which book has been sold.

Bring something other than a chewed Bic for signing and take the time to practise first, especially if using a pseudonym.

Invest in some book display stands and menu holders for pricelists, etc.
http://www.stand-store.co.uk/acatalog/shop.html


7. Photographs

The photos are vital to post-launch promotion, so grab the chance to get some pics with guests and books. Ensure you have dedicated posing time, ideally before the guests arrive, so you can focus and have a moment of calm. Give the photographer a list of shots you need and ask others to send their good ones.

Amazingly, for a bunch of females, we forgot to discuss what we would be wearing. But through pure luck, our outfits happened to go well together on both occasions.


8. Promo materials

We ordered generic posters and bookmarks, along with postcards for each book (cover on the front, blurb plus QR code on the back to facilitate ease of e-purchase). Don’t forget Blu-Tak.

Book-sized paper bags for purchases, already primed with bookmarks and postcards are handy for people to carry their goodies away.

9. Cost

Factor in the price of venue, catering, promotional materials, print and transportation of books. Do check which services add VAT (ahem). The cost of these two events has averaged at £1500. Not something we could have considered alone, but sharing the costs between us makes it less painful.

Takings on the day are unlikely to cover the outlay, but the subsequent bump in sales, not to mention positive publicity, goodwill and the fun of an afternoon in the company of writers and booklovers makes it absolutely worthwhile.

10. Follow up

Thank people for coming. Send those links you promised and pass on introductions. Set a Google Alert and find out who’s writing it up. Comment and say thanks. Write up your own version and share via social media.

Then start planning the next one.
Our next event? Something a little different. You may need a map.
Watch this space ...







Sunday, 5 January 2014

How To Create A Study Guide

By JJ Marsh

Practical suggestions for exploiting the learning potential in your book and creating a whole new audience.

Whether you write chicklit, literary fiction, historical fiction or crime, there’s an opportunity to extend your book’s reach.

This post is about how to create a Study Guide for language students. (Material for literature appreciation is a different beast and deserves a post all its own.)

Here we’re looking at advanced students of English, their teachers and ways to generate a mutually beneficial relationship. Here's ten tips on how to do it:

cover image


First off. this wasn’t my idea. Credit goes to Sherida Deeprose, an English teacher, author and member of my writing group, who suggested using my book as the subject for two of her advanced reading groups.

Behind Closed Doors is a crime novel, set in Zürich, Switzerland, where I live. Sherida’s students are mostly Swiss, with some German, French and Italian speakers. It seemed like a good fit. Two years later, this is what I’ve learned from working with Sherida.

Sherida with one of her classes
Sherida, second left, with some of her students
1. Find a collaborator. Sherida’s experience and knowledge of her group led her to create exercises and activities which stimulated their imaginations and extracted as much as possible from the text. I’m a Diploma-qualified EFL teacher of 20 years, but an author writing questions about his/her own work? It’s impossible to sidestep the ego. Sherida’s clear eyes were invaluable. Approach a language school, ask a teacher from a local comp, offer an undergraduate an opportunity, but try to find someone experienced in the art of teaching.

2. Use existing expertise. When we got down to the nuts and bolts of variety, range and practical use of the guide, we looked to precedents. Pearson, Macmillan and Oxford Bookworms showed us what a good guide should contain, plus sites such as Discovery allowed us to create visual puzzles, such as crosswords and wordsearch activities.

Sample pages
Sample pages
3. Make it teacher friendly. Teachers are always short on time. Provide them with a well-thought-through exercise, targeting a language point, add a suggestion for development and the answers in the back/Teacher’s Guide. Make sure the answers are correct. This is vital, or you risk embarrassing the teacher in front of the class.

4. Make it reader friendly. Endless comprehension questions will bore the most avid reader. Sherida’s groups were both learners of English and literature appreciators, so we included lots of variety: exploration of text construction, authorial intent, use of subtext, as well as exploiting every opportunity to consolidate grammar points or recycle vocabulary.

5. Let people know a free resource is downloadable. Contact The British Council, International House, and whoever the leading schools are in your area. Add a PDF to your website or blog and get the word out.

P10004326. Engage. Provide an opportunity for the readers to ask questions – if you can’t manage this in person, perhaps make a recorded video, responding to their individual points. A bunch of bookmarks, an audio clip, or even a deleted scene can all act as a thank you for their engagement. I visited both groups and found their opinions heartwarming and educational.

7. Be clear regarding appropriate level. In addition to the usual guidelines regarding age range and potentially offensive material, you need to be clear on language ability. Use the Council of Europe Framework and label the Study Guide /Book as suitable for use with the sufficient comprehension level. If not, you risk switching people off. We labelled Behind Closed Doors as B2 and above.

8. Try to keep the language focus broad. We had no choice in Switzerland - home to four official languages - but if you tailor all the exercises to German speakers, you're limiting the guide's usability and reach.

9. Don't add colour images. Black and white is easiest for teachers who want to be able to print and photocopy. And avoid fancy fonts. Helvetica or Arial work well for clarity across the board. Remember to be consistent. Eg, always have exercise title in bold, rubric in italics and activity itself should be normal.

10. Gauge interest. Take feedback from the teachers. Which bits excite more interest than others? Are there dull sections? Could one exercise be developed? Is there mileage in suggesting more creative engagement for the active reader? The guide is easy to update, and should respond to readers, languages and learning preferences.

Here's Beyond Closed Doors, the Study Guide for Behind Closed Doors.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Writers' Services: Joy Tibbs


Joy Tibbs: Joy of Editing

Providing structural and copy editing services as well as basic proofreading.


Website: www.joyofediting.co.uk

Email: joyediting@gmail.com

Mobile: 07805466642






Triskele Meets Joy Tibbs:


What kind of editing do you do? 
This depends on the client. I can help with structural and copy editing, and with proofreading. I advise on plot consistency, flow, character development, repetition and a range of other issues as well as dealing with basic spelling and grammar.


How do you approach working with a client on a manuscript?

I normally read the first few chapters of a manuscript before advising on the type of editing service the client requires. Once this has been agreed, I read the full manuscript through once. I then perform the first round of edits in Word using tracked changes and adding comments in the margins. Once the client has responded to the comments and implemented the changes, I perform a final read-through to pick up any last-minute typos.

How would you describe a successful author/editor relationship?

A successful author/editor relationship must be extremely honest. While an author may wish to hear how wonderful his or her manuscript is, it is more helpful for the editor to provide constructive criticism in a sensitive way. The editor should never try to change the author’s voice, unless specifically requested to do so. The author/editor relationship is about working together to make the finished product as good as it can possibly be.


Recommendation:

Joy is quite literally a joy to work with. She has worked on three of my novels and she'll certainly be my first choice for the next one. It's rare to find someone with an eye for detail as well as a clear view of the bigger picture, but Joy has both. She's also extremely efficient and reliable. Thank you, Joy!
 Polly Courtney, author of Feral Youth, Golden Handcuffs and Poles Apart.

Writers' Services: John Hudspith


John Hudspith Editing Services 

website|: www.johnhudspith.co.u


email: johnny@johnhudspith.co.uk


What kind of editing do you do?

Some might describe what I do as `heavy` editing. But see, that depends on the level of understanding of the craft the individual writer is at; some needing more help than others. `Help` being the key word here, because when you employ an editor, you must realise he is not a machine or robot programmed to exactness and thereby guaranteeing perfection with your work. No, your editor is a hired help, a fellow of the craft, a writer himself, and what you are in fact doing by employing this chap or chappess is handing a fellow artist a chisel and inviting him to give you a hand. And that is exactly what I do; examine structure, pace, characterisation, dialogue, mood, tone, props, production values and camera angles and give a hand with getting these things into shape – ensuring all the while that the writer’s voice/style receives the most important enhancement of all and that `story` works.

How do you approach working with a client on a manuscript?

I ask for three chapters, synopsis, what the inspiration is for the work and a little information about the writer. I read the chapters, study the synopsis, then provide an appraisal along with the first chapter edited and a quotation for completing the work. There is no charge for the appraisal and sample edits. Before any writer engages with me I want them to see what I can bring to their work. Before parting with your hard-earned, always ask for a free sample and ensure the editor engages with your work, your voice, and can bring something delicious to your table. If your editor doesn’t make you drool, find one that does.

How would you describe a successful author/editor relationship?

A successful editor will be aware of the conventions and reader perceptions of every genre in which he works. A successful editor, with in-depth knowledge of the craft, will teach his writer these things of reader perceptions and camera angles and voice and the nuance of words. To edit the work of another and watch them learn as the process moves along is to watch a writer evolve and I’m privileged to have experienced this many times upon reading the work of returning writers and finding they have taken on board all I said about narrative POV values and mood creators, and their word choice is now so picky I could cry. And so it goes on. A successful author/editor relationship is one of passionate teacher and hungry pupil.

You can read more about John Hudspith here.

RECOMMENDATION

Siobhan Daiko submitted the opening chapters of `The Orchid Tree` - a historical romance set in post-war colonial Hong Kong. She had a suspicion that her novel wasn’t quite working, but didn’t know why. I found the narrative voice had a unique sparseness to it, a knack for succinct imagery and storytelling, and indeed the read brought a fragrant feel, almost as if one was sitting with the book beneath an orchid tree. There wasn’t much editing to do. Fluff was a rarity, as were typos and grammatical issues, and character actions and reactions and resulting mood and tone were all in top condition. An easy job for me, but we did eventually uncover the cause of Siobhan’s suspicions...

Siobhan says:

`I was feeling despondent about The Orchid Tree. Something wasn’t right with it, but I was too close
to the writing to figure out what that “something” was. I’d seen Johnny’s name online and had heard nothing but good words about him. I sent off for a sample edit and quote, which came back within days. Impressed by his professionalism, and willingness to spread payments by working on the novel in blocks, I sent off my first section. And so began my journey with Johnny.

He applied everything he talks about in his posts “on editing” to my work, focusing on reader enjoyment and flagging up what he calls “distorters”, but also giving praise and encouragement. Comments like “wonderful imagery, beautifully done,” “an absorbing voice”, “mood and character captured perfectly” made me feel as if I hadn’t written such rubbish after all. At first, there were only minor edits and instances where he suggested I should cut what he calls “fluff”. It was rare for Johnny to have to chip in. Then, after I’d sent him the third section, he flagged up where I’d been going wrong. My protagonist had started acting out of character and reader empathy had fallen away. A halleluiah moment for me.

Major rewrites ensued, at no extra cost, and emails flew back and forth as we worked together. Again, Johnny was hugely encouraging, with comments like, “this is perfect” or “this is a tingle moment”. I trust Johnny’s judgement and I’m sure The Orchid Tree is a much better novel now. So grateful to Johnny; he’s brilliant. My confidence has soared and I’m ready to send my baby out there for others to read… and to write the sequel. Watch this space!`
Siobhan Daiko. Italy.