How to make the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists: Jasmine Walt (one to watch)

Interview with Jasmine Walt by the Self-Publishing Roundtable

If you can spare just one hour out of your life to watch one video that could influence whether or not you ‘make it’ as an author (in the really, really BIG sense), watch this one.

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Jasmine Walt has made both the NYT and USA Today top 20 (including top 10) bestseller lists twice in the last month – firstly with her curated/co-authored box-set ebook Magic & Mayhem, and this week with the first in her new paranormal series, Shadow Born, co-authored with fellow HarperCollins ‘Authonomy’ site alumni Rebecca Hamilton.

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As Jasmine explains here, it’s not simply a case of luck. It’s a lot of marketing via social media and mailing lists, a huge advertising budget (hers doubled in the three month pre-order phase for the box-set ebook release of Magic & Mayhem, in order to have the desired impact) and endless navigating of the restrictions and regulations by the ebook publishing platforms, and criteria of the bestseller lists themselves, when pushing for this kind of exposure.

Because you need to watch the interview to get to the real nuts and bolts of how it was done, I’m not going to discuss the interview content further or give you my opinions, other than tell you, this is tried and tested, it happened, and it worked. If you have the time and financial resources to try it for yourself, and achieve the same initial sales figures in the process, there’s no reason why this business model shouldn’t work for you too.

One prerequisite: You do need to have written the book! And as Jasmine says “It does seem to work best with new releases” – so think carefully before republishing something that’s been lurking on Amazon already for the last five years. Look at the current market interests, and get those brain cells in gear – you’ll need every last one of them.

You can find Jasmine Walt on Twitter as @jasmine_writes

🙂 xx

Genre Jazz: Re-cut – copyright, parodies, homage, tributes, image rights and public domain

The Story of Technoviking: The Film

technoviking

The Story of Technoviking, release date today, 15 Oct 2015 (50m06s, free to watch online): http://technoviking.tv/film

Writing parody mash-up on my blog while looking for inspiration in movie scenes made me realise two things: (1) That it’s still my strongest point writing-wise, and (2) Youtube kicks everyone’s ass!

In terms of public use, Youtube is the home of re-imagination. Whether the original muse is a movie, news story, pop promo, video game, or social commentary meme, it’s where users upload their re-interpretations, parodies, mutations, reactions, songs and art inspired by images appearing in the curated mainstream and entering the awareness of the social media sphere.

Perhaps the earliest cult internet muse inspiring an ongoing global artistic phenomenon is the Youtube uploader Subrealic.

Subrealic is the user name of Matthias Fritsch, a film-maker from Germany who took what appeared to be random public footage in a series of different locations, and posted them independently some time before joining Youtube.

The video in question was a candid single-shot in-camera sequence called ‘Kneecam No.1’ captured by Matthias at the Berlin Fuck Parade, a protest street event in response to what many underground EDM (electronic dance music) fans considered to be the over-commercialised Love Parade taking place in the city at the same time in 2000.

Matthias says: “The reason why I filmed this was to document the Fuck Parade as an event. Why I published this sequence was not to show the Fuck Parade but to raise a question for the audience: Is what you see real or staged? To create an uncertainty. I named it ʽKneecam No.1’ and ʽNo.1’ stands for a series of experimental videos that deal with the role of the camera… I started to upload my videos to YouTube to make them more accessible because it was much easier to host videos there than on my own website.”

The Kneecam No.1 video showed a short segment of the street protest party, filmed from the back of a moving trailer playing a mix of rave tunes by Can-D-Music and Winstan vs. Noia, while party-goers followed.

It captured a small moment of conflict, and its resolution by a figure intervening on the distracted parade with undeniable alpha-male status, who then reasserts the purpose of the event by leading the group in dancing behind the trailer for several minutes, before disappearing again.

Although the earliest reactions to the video came only in the form of comments debating the authenticity of the piece and whether it was an arranged set-up, once it began to be shared and re-posted on forums and other websites, the cult of personality of the alpha-male ‘character’ in Kneecam No.1 developed.

Matthias was on a trip to China when he received this email comment: “The video has been posted by someone 2 days ago and now there are 1 990 256 view. I have never see that before on the web. What is the name of those songs in the film? He needs to be on a T-shirt too. Thank you very much.”

Commenters on forums responded to it with custom memes and reaction images, and shortly, reaction videos. In one forum, the ʽstar’ was nominated for a title:

“He doesn’t dance to the music, the music dances to him. His name: Technoviking.”

As soon as the nickname Technoviking was coined, the cult status of the video was confirmed. The character was given the type of hero status reserved for action movie icons, compared to Chuck Norris.

Matthias began to collect and document Technoviking references to study what was occurring in the virtual world once it became apparent that this was a viral internet phenomenon.

“A whole Technoviking universe seemed to appear. So what I did was collect all those responses to my video. And of course most of them were remixes of the original video. So I put together an archive based on this Technoviking meme in order to study the behaviour of users online.”

Youtube users, artists, cartoonists, toy-makers, printers, songwriters and console gaming fans were soon using the original Kneecam No.1 film as a muse to create objects and scenarios in art based around the perceived leading character. The subsequent productivity and social awareness that surrounded Kneecam No.1 far outweighed the original – it had a self-regenerating, self-perpetuating, self-mutating life of its own.

Kirby Ferguson, from the film Everything Is A Remix Part 4, 2011: “This is evolution. Copy, transform, combine.”

Over the years, the film has been re-contextualised with alternative music, animations, re-scripted subtitles and voice dubs. It has been re-enacted hundreds of times over, with students, dolls, hula-hoop performances, in living rooms and outdoors, and uploaded by Youtubers sharing their enthusiasm for the Berlin Fuck Parade encounter scene and the mysterious individual known only as Technoviking, originally curated in Kneecam No.1.

Heinz Drügh, Professor of New German Literature and Aesthetics at Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, states:It is a bit like the butterfly effect. Something that was not created for a big dimension got such a huge echo. Especially by taking into consideration that most things in the Internet are not getting any attention.”

Technoviking as a cult celebrity figure has been printed on mugs, t-shirts, appeared in graphic novel sequences, and even as in-game characters, epitomising the alpha male action hero – only as inspiration taken from real life, not a Hollywood movie set.

Matthias, his film only the trigger for all of the extended creativity that followed it, made a modest sum of money over a period of two years when Youtube invited him to monetize his video with advertising, and by selling a few t-shirts. The majority of his efforts were focused on studying the viral influences of Technoviking, where the marketing of products by others based on the video’s character were more visible and aggressive, and where other individuals in the world were sharing and reinterpreting its influences.

He was also making efforts to trace the man himself, hoping to share the phenomenon with him and ensure that the benefits of the original video’s cult status were available mutually.

“…After the video went viral in 2007 I started to search in different gyms by calling them, because I thought he is from Berlin and a body builder, so he must be known in one or the other studio…”

He kept coming up against dead ends, but eventually after a number of years, contact was made – in the form of a Cease and Desist order from the individual’s lawyer.

The most famous unsuspecting internet cult hero of the early 21st Century only wanted his privacy and ‘the right to be forgotten’.

Matthias had to agree to remove the original Kneecam No.1 and all of his own ancillary products.

That part was simple enough. For the complainant, there are a myriad more cases of ‘use of his image’ and constant re-postings of the video by other users to pursue.

It’s a case of ‘Life imitating art imitating life’ – a character inspired by a real individual, given the themes of justice-seeker and superhero by the public, arts and the entertainment world, prompts the individual concerned to pursue his own global justice and protect his own right to privacy.

The man formerly known as Technoviking will indeed take you down, just as the many memes suggested his character would.

Remember also that this is a private individual – not a celebrity. He has nothing to lose by pursuing enforcement of his image rights.

Antonio Broumas, Digital Rights Attorney, Digital Liberation Network: I am very interested in the result of this case. It actually determines many things regarding what we are doing on the Internet. What can be uploaded to YouTube? How can we use people’s photos in public places? What is permitted and what is not? And I believe that the aim of the court in these cases will have to be to make things clear for the citizens.”

Meanwhile, Matthias Fritsch, the Youtube uploader formerly known as Subrealic, has made a case-study documentary of the Kneecam No.1 viral video’s influence to date and the worldwide phenomenon it prompted, leading to the image rights case being brought against him by the perceived ‘star’ – the individual concerned. It’s both a cautionary tale and an evolutionary one regarding the global arts community, including commentary and interviews with legal, social and arts experts.

The documentary covers issues an artist will encounter when using material ‘found in reality’ and regarding visual image copyright and distribution when the image contains persons and their rights. There are forms of explicit consent required for specific further use of the images, beyond merely collecting them.

It explodes the myths regarding the right to use images or footage from crowd scenes, namely the ‘Five or more persons’ myth.

Louisa Specht, Personality Rights Expert, ZAR Karlsruhe: The ʽ5 Person Myth’ doesn’t exist as a law. I am allowed to record parades and demonstrations without the agreement of the depicted people, but when an individual stands out from the crowd this exception doesn’t apply anymore.”

It also dissects what is essentially art and public property – such as whether an individual can claim rights over an image that contains elements of earlier appropriation, whether those are actions or personal style, or the context of their appearance and behaviour. The argument over ‘fair use’ has grounds in whether art inspired by individuals and scenes found in reality, whose own inspiration for image is inspired by earlier identifiable arts and personality icons, can even be claimed as a private or personal image in any new context that an artistically-revised version gives it.

Felix Stalder, Professor of Digital Culture and Net Theory in Zurich: The owner has to be aware that he takes or that she has taken from the public – so he/she has to grant the public also the right to take from him/her.”

Something that’s inspired me in the past is the trend on Youtube for re-edits of trailers and movie clips, by fans. My brothers and I used to do our own re-dubbed voice-overs for Star Trek when we were kids, on an ancient VHS rental with a Play/Rec/Dub setting. Must have been the earliest invented!

For example, I published my parody The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum after writing it chapter-by-chapter on my blog, linking to movie scenes that were my muses and mashed-up music remixes on Youtube. I wanted to show where my influences lay. While searching for the scenes, with the most popular ones I would come across dozens of alternate versions in a creative online explosion, similar to the demographic portrayed by the ʽspawn’ of Kneecam No.1.

I don’t just mean ‘re-edits’ as in, a fan’s favourite bits of the movie put together as a tribute or slideshow. I mean where they’ve used the original as an artistic prompt, and changed the implied genre, or storyline, as a transformative work. Look up the political-thrillerised version of Splash’. That’s really creative, and the great thing about Youtube is everyone can share and appreciate a different slant on what Hollywood does.

And completely reinvented mash-ups, taking an existing concept and changing the context, like the re-imagined works initiated by Subrealic, aka Matthias Fritsch. One example is Youtube uploader Ryan (user name: nigahiga), known for a spoof of the social media game Candy Crush Saga by re-inventing it and shooting it as a Hollywood movie trailer.

It has been done in books already – most notably with Death Comes to Pemberley’ by P.D. James, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Two different interpretations of the same Jane Austen romance. James took the original characters from Pride and Prejudice’ but not the original book or prose, and penned a murder mystery in place of a happy ever after – but her imitation of Austen’s style is spot on, so it is the genre which has changed, but not the voice as such.

Grahame-Smith took the original text – legally, as it is in the ‘public domain’ meaning out of copyright worldwide (literary copyright expires in most countries at the wonderful-sounding date of death [of the author] + 70 years’ or in a few cases death [author] + 100 years’) – and added butt-kicking martial artist zombie-killer action to it.

If you plan to do similar, as in either of these examples, make sure the original content you are planning on mashing up is in the ‘public domain’ (as defined by the time-spans above). Public domain does NOT mean ‘the characters have been discussed in the Daily Mail’ or that they have fan pages on Facebook, or profiles on Wiki. One thing I was asked about by a cover artist – no, images on WikiCommons are not ‘public domain’ – they are provided for contextual use only.

Be wary of falling into the trap of assuming ALL books who fulfil the ‘date of death of the author’ are in public domain. Estates are often set up for prolific or famous authors – for example, the late British author Arthur Ransome.

Under normal circumstances, his books would enter public domain status seventy years after his death. However, the existence of an estate to protect his work, and an existing fan-base, means this is unlikely, and copyright may be renewed before it expires. This came as a surprise to at least two authors I have worked with – one who mistakenly assumed you could appropriate anything ‘from any book over seventy years old’ (misinformation about copyright lifespan, see above for definition), and one who thought you could publish new stories about an author’s famous original leading characters and situations so long as the author was dead (post-burial optional). As discussed before, that’s fan-fiction, and can’t be published for financial gain.

You also have to be aware of when a central character is not public domain, while the source story might well be. The fairytale of Sleeping Beauty is ancient and can be re-imagined by anyone. But Maleficent the character, based on the original ‘evil witch’ from the fairytale, as portrayed in all forms by Disney, was created and is owned by Disney. Again, this is similar in context to Stalder’s comment he takes or that she has taken from the public – so he/she has to grant the public also the right to take from him/her.”

Maleficent - before and after 1

Genuine Disney merchandise doll in original packaging on the left, with my re-dressed and repainted custom OOAK version on the right, made for myself as a fan of the character. Even more relevant – the doll on the right that I customised was not a genuine Disney original, but a bootleg version manufactured elsewhere and found online. So the Maleficent doll design has been ‘re-mixed’ twice.

It is possible to develop a new, copyrighted product inspired by public domain work. You cannot legally reproduce Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty or Maleficent, or any of their named character designs, and equally neither you or Disney can claim the copyright status of sole use of the original fairytale. But you can write your own version of the original fairytale from scratch, change the title, change the point-of-view, add new characters of your own devising (called O.C.s by fan-fiction writers) and you may copyright your own unique version.

This is where the debate rages over transformative works, especially when they cross back and forth over the transmedia line, from imagery to written word to gaming to product marketing and back again. It happens with cultural appropriation in music and fashion – mutual admiration or artistic appreciation of lifestyle across communities leads to imitation, reworking, a new and temporary ownership of those styles for a period of time, and then transition again.

Domenico Quaranta, Art Critic and Curator, Link Art Center, Italy:The idea should have the right to evolve, and who did something shouldn’t have the right to value, to judge the following variations of the idea that he contributed to. Because if this contributed in a significant way to the evolution of the story, this contribution itself must be significant.

Parody, as made by National Lampoon, and the Barry Trotter books etc, is a reworking of a genre, of a recognisable copyrighted current franchise – but with new characters, which may sound and act similar to the originals, and also importantly, with jokes in. Although ‘parody’ is still not recognised in all countries. Some territories consider it copyright infringement where readily identifiable, and deem them not publishable either, as with fan-fiction.

Many books and films, especially fantasy/humour (including Pratchett’s Discworld series) pay homage to earlier works in ways that the reader or viewer can identify with.

For this to work, the parody element – or the tribute, or homage – has to be something that connects broadly with the audience. Kneecam No.1 gave the audience the ʽsuperhero’ identification scene. In generally accepted storytelling, you have a scene with a damsel in distress, an injustice, a battle or a risk to life involved, and a mysterious, larger-than-life stranger swoops in to save the day. After succeeding and re-establishing the status quo, reminding the rest of humankind to look out for one another and what their current priorities are, the superhero vanishes again. He has other places to be and problems to solve. This is the story archetype for that character, and the role that Technoviking immediately fulfilled in the imagination of the audience.

Maxa Zoller, Film Curator, Cairo: “I think it’s a certain male desire to become this CGI, muscular, protective archetype of a man. These guys, when they imitate the viking, film, edit, upload and watch other examples – and that’s also where the fun comes in – there is an affective context that is not just popular culture, that has a certain quality.

Although these stories and scenarios exist as common archetypes, Hollywood homage and copyright is a fine line. George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino are artists in their own right who have included style reference to their influences in their work. Steven Spielberg too. Hollywood director Chris Columbus used his own Young Sherlock Holmes cast and script as reference for many scenes and characters when directing Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone. My mother recalls watching Young Sherlock Holmes on TV as ‘that old Harry Potter film with the unconvincing Dementors running around in dressing-gowns. The one where Hermione gets shot at the end.’

A line is crossed in film when an entire story and its parallel sequences are seen to be ‘lifted’ from one other recognisable work – you can look up Disturbia/Estate of Alfred Hitchcock vs. Sheldon Abend Trust to research how one such case of two films and the original story was raised.

Any writer automatically owns their own prose. That’s word order on the page. Not title, not idea, not basic plot. If someone is proven to have Ctrl+C-ed and Ctrl+V-ed (copied and pasted) from another author’s non-public-domain work, or reproduced chunks of it verbatim, that is written copyright infringement in a nutshell.

A well-reported case in the last few years involved passages lifted from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, among others, by a hasty crime thriller writer, drunk on the lucrative new publishing contract he had received (Assassin of Secrets by Q.R. Markham, pen-name of Quentin Rowan, 2011). The portions of work that were stolen were quickly spotted in review copies by existing fans of the originals, and shared publicly in online reader forums. The plagiarising author’s book was withdrawn, and thousands of orders and pre-orders had to be refunded.

Titles, and names such as Discworld can be protected by registered trademark. You can go on that journey if you wish – trademarking is not automatic, unlike copyright, and must be applied for. You will have to prove ownership, originality, and that the word, image or phrase is not in common public usage. Look up the following two words together – ‘space’ + ‘marine’ copyright, for a good example of trademarking which has had plenty of online coverage (see Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 v. M.C.A. Hogarth)

It’s rare to see trademark owners attempt to get it enforced retrospectively, but it does happen.

However, unpublished and indie authors occasionally come out with the well-roasted old chestnut: “I’d love for a huge publisher to steal my ideas, because then I would sue them and be rich.”

When is the last time you heard of this happening? I haven’t – yet I have seen several instances over the years of where a case might be made. The only case I saw followed through and resolved, hopefully to mutual satisfaction, was in the case of an indie author’s unique and personally commissioned cover art on the Authonomy website (now defunct), which was clearly imitated on a different book announced for release by the host publishing house. The publisher blamed the individual working for them on cover design, and had not checked their sources or inspiration – even though they owned the promotional website that the design was lifted from.

Major publishers and film companies always have to be prepared for a deluge of copyright claims, and legally, the complainant has to prove the theft, that the opportunity was in hand. If you research JK Rowling and her product distributors regarding individual authors’ attempted copyright cases against her work – there is a whole Wiki page’s worth – you will discover that the claimants have been bankrupted by such efforts, not enriched.

Even if the small fry have afforded their losing legal costs, the big fish may counter-sue subsequently for tarnishing their reputation, or something called ‘lack of good faith action’ requiring substantial damages to be paid to them by the original complainant. Cue small fry bankruptcy…

You may also be in trouble if you use a celebrity as a character in your published work, never mind a private individual, such as the Technoviking case. This comes under ‘appropriating and distributing a person’s image without consent’ – a French traditionally published author fell foul of this recently, using a current Hollywood actress as the person his female leading character was mistaken for and used to her advantage in his story. He had to pay damages to her as his book was found to have defamed the celebrity’s persona, tarnishing her public image (by his character’s behaviour in the story), while further damages for appropriation of her likeness and personality had also been sought. (Scarlet Johansson v. Grégoire Delacourt re. La Première Chose Qu’on Regarde, 2014). A major console gaming designer was subjected to a similar case by another Hollywood star, who claimed that she and her clothing style, including specific visual images and a recognisable corruption of her name ‘confusing to fans’ had been used as a model for an in-game character, without licensing or consent. (Lyndsay Lohan v. Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive re. GTA V, 2014).

Lyndsay v. GTA V

Lyndsay Lohan in a selfie-style pose on the left. GTA V in-game character Lacey Jonas mimics on the right.

Alexander Paschke, lawyer for Technoviking:My client asserts the rights that he is entitled to. And if this includes a claim for compensation – then it is part of that. But again: He is not after money – it would be much easier to make money out of this in other ways – but this is about others not exploiting and commercializing his persona. If you look at it from the other side: If the violator, who is marketing somebody else illegally, if he can even keep the profits coming out of the violation – what kind of understanding of rights would this be?

In non-fiction, there is the established referencing system for quotes and sources. Even if your own work is a paraphrased version of the source and not quoted directly, a lot of non-fiction requires supporting evidence, not just credit to the originator. Verbatim quotes will still need permission, including for credited song lyrics. Look up the Harvard method of referencing to fill out your bibliography of research to include in the endnotes of your book. (See Dr Raj Persaud plagiarism case).

That’s the bare bones of it. The part I can shed a positive light on today is the genre twist option, accessible to authors. Where, like P.D. James, you take an old public domain tale, and tell it for a different audience. I hear that very kinky things are currently going on in the world of crusty old romances at the minute, never mind murder mysteries and zombies.

By the look of things happening elsewhere in fictional mash-ups and re-inventions, Technoviking got off lightly. The audience in general respected him.

Wolfgang Ullrich, Professor of Art History & Media Philosophy, Karlsruhe:If one wanted to speak very traditionally and philosophically, one could see a phenomenon such as the Technoviking as a nice piece of evidence for a thought that was first prominently formulated by Immanuel Kant in his book ʽCritique of Judgment’ in the year 1790, where he asks himself the question: “How does one recognize a work of art?” – and he explicitly means a great work of art, the work of a genius. And the criterion for him, which is actually the only criterion for him, is the reception, the effect of this work. For him it’s clear: The work is a work of a genius if there are copycats, if there are a lot of copycats, if it has something compelling that other humans can’t resist its effect. This would be an indicator of the original’s power, that created new rules and established new forms, and for Kant this would be the proof for a really great art work in the case of the original video of Technoviking.”

Supposing as a writer, for example, you became such ʽa copycat’ and took the genius of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, re-writing him in the style of Bridget Jones’ Diary or Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Or Frankenstein in the style of a CSI police procedural, analysing all of the body parts going missing. I’d like to see Kathy Reichs do that one… It was done fantastically with Johnny Depp as a police forensics expert in Sleepy Hollow’ – so it’s not an entirely new concept (just look at the action-style on show in the last Sherlock-based TV and movie releases, which are frequently re-invented for new audiences), but potentially there are many forms of almost-unexploited literary mash-up yet to reach the mainstream bookshelves.

You just need to find your genius to emulate – that’s unless you manage to become one, in your own right.

Matthias gives the impression that he still hopes to share an open dialogue one day with the reluctant star of his early film project.

“There is not only ʽmy intellectual property’ but also his, the work of the DJs, the people who made the music, the background dancers – they also were part of the creation – and therefore I don’t see myself as the only originator that owns everything.”

However, if you’re an author investing your time in words on the page, you’ll have to run to catch up with the creativity of online users making re-cut trailers and their own tribute videos on Youtube. That’s if the man formerly known as Technoviking doesn’t get to them first.

The documentary by Matthias Fritsch is released today on http://technoviking.tv/film – it’s free to watch, and compulsory viewing for anyone interested in the future of artistic interpretation, image rights, copyright, global cultural appropriation, viral marketing, and the individual right to privacy and maintaining the personal context of one’s own life, given today’s open social media culture. It’s a fascinating case study, showing how the phenomenon grew chronologically and in its exponential aspects, in which Matthias, the originator, had no promotional role.

Felix Stalder: Transformative uses – using something to make something new out of it… In a way this is covered theoretically by fair use in the US. But the way fair use has been interpreted in the court, it is very very narrow.”

Thanks to Matthias Fritsch of technoviking.tv for permission to quote from interviews in ʽThe Technoviking Story’ and to share the documentary

Q&A: Lisa Scullard – writer, editor, formatter, parkour enthusiast…

A surprise invitation from David Powning of Ink-Wrapped…

Ink-wrapped

Today I’m delighted to welcome writer Lisa Scullard, who works across the zombie, parody and romance genres. She caught my eye recently after releasing a novel under a pen-name with no fanfare or marketing frenzy, and yet achieved surprising results. Lisa also works on the editing side of things, and is a font of knowledge when it comes to formatting.

I was intrigued by your blog post about releasing a book under a pen-name, in a genre that you hadn’t previously written in before, and with next to no promotion. What prompted you to do this, and how surprised were you by the reaction?

I’d dreamed of writing romance from the age of about thirteen, and had a very rose-tinted view of it – meaning I never felt qualified. I believed for a very long time that romance authors all led very romantic lives, whereas I’m more self-isolating and insular…

View original post 2,490 more words

…Apparently, I can…

Hey, happy Sunday 🙂

I’m not sure what I expected would happen, publishing an unknown pen-name into the most overcrowded genre, with no advertising or solicited support. A dive into the community pool of obscurity, most likely. The genre has the highest turnover of readers as well, who devour a book in a day and are in a hurry to pick up the next one, like a chocolate fixation. Interest at the most optimistic level is likely to be fleeting.

I jumped the gun too, having had the book requested in full by Harlequin M&B and waited three months for a response after submitting. As the novel, a stand-alone story, only took me five weeks to write (76,000 words, a cakewalk compared to some of my others) I justified that part as not thinking it decent that I should have to wait more than twice as long for a reply than it took me to write. And I’d started writing four more in the meantime, which if I finish this year to follow it up with, would be unlikely to find such quick slots to fill in a traditional publisher’s catalogue.

Anyway. From my previous experience of running repeating freebies as promotion, when I put it on KDP Select to release it as free in the first weekend after publishing it last week, I was expecting a few hundred downloads on Amazon.com, a few dozen on Amazon.co.uk and one or two elsewhere. After the freebie ended this time, however, I had 1732 downloads on Kindle UK, outstripping everywhere else almost three times over, and had reached the UK #4 in its category and #24 in the Kindle top 100 bestsellers in Free ebooks. Two 5* reviews had turned up from nowhere, and it has continued to sell (and be borrowed on Amazon Prime) at an average rate of 1 per hour ever since.

As I only tweeted it about a dozen times for the freebie, and didn’t solicit or advertise for any promotion or ask friends for help, all I can guess is that folk genuinely like this book and are recommending it.

That’s a writer’s dream. Still early days, but at the the moment I feel as though I should be pinching myself to see if it’s really me dreaming it.

Possibly in danger of giving myself a small identity crisis, but that’s nothing new. One audience for the zombie parody, one for the psychological introspection, and now another, under a new name altogether.

And it means the opportunity to invest more time in writing 🙂

It wasn’t a quick decision to write in another genre – I’d been writing experimentally in this genre for about twenty years, but never published anything. Writing and publishing my other stuff turned out to be relevant experience – the more you write, the more fluent you become. You can learn something new about language and prose every day, which I discovered when writing a novel as a blog in 2012. When you write in a fully-conscious state of mind, you’re less likely to repeat yourself or slip into stereotypes associated with writing.

But I found I also have to be aware of being a storyteller, imparting an atmosphere and emotional tone as a major priority – allowing the reader’s imagination to have as much control without distracting them with ‘wordplay’. There’s good writing that demonstrates the mental gymnastics and intellect of the author, and then there’s good writing that you forget is writing because you’re absorbed in the story. In this case, I was aiming for the second one – which meant switching off the part of me as a writer which wants to flash around some skills and intellect and behave as if I have something to gain by proving them. If being too clever makes your writing inaccessible, it’s like pricing your books too high – they may be praiseworthy, but only a few folk will invest in them.

For me, writing will always be a spontaneous activity, meaning that most of what I achieve is down to luck and enjoying the time spent by myself working on it, which includes any social media (I have a great deal of writer friends, but I’m not known for turning up ubiquitously on dozens of blogs or joining marketing campaigns and the review culture). One reason I enjoy writing as a career is it doesn’t involve any group effort or teamwork – and I’m not into competitive sports either 🙂

Genuine success will always be down to the readership in that particular genre and their judgement. It’s a very grounding and humbling thought, knowing that as the writer, you’re always outnumbered by the potential readers, by millions to one 🙂

L xxx

“Tell me honestly. Can I pull this off?”

Matt Lucas as Dongloor in Krod Mandoon

Switching styles, like Dongalor in “Krod Mandoon”, played by Matt Lucas

So yesterday I got bored, and to distract myself from watching my ‘selling’ items on ebay, I published one of my recent romance novels under a pen name I’ve been cultivating for a couple of months, Lauren Boutain.

This is the one that M&B requested the full MS of three months ago, and having just won round one of their Facebook and Twitter-based #TemptedToWrite contest pitching another idea, I have too many stories in my head now to sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting. For now, I’ll stick to self-publishing until something better comes along… (like I don’t know, having a life?) 🙂

I did get some encouragement from having had it requested, and a couple of good friends. Friends are very important when you’re venturing into anything new, and contemporary modern romance is definitely new ground for me…

Matt Lucas, Dongalor

Supposing Dongalor wrote the next romance blockbuster, who might he ask to take a peek? 🙂

And then there’s all the stuff I don’t usually write. The bedroom stuff… I found that was where planning to write under a pen-name up front really helped. Not by trying to distance myself from it – by getting inside the head of someone else while writing. And not just the characters, for a change. By being another author completely.

For the first time I started a Pinterest board for my muses and also a Facebook page early on.

However, I found that waiting to hear from publishers still didn’t really fit – I had momentum in my creativity, and didn’t want to let it drop once I’d finished the story, I wanted to get it out there and move straight on to the next. So I’m afraid to say that yesterday I decided I couldn’t wait for either the good news or a rejection, and published anyway 🙂

Matt Lucas as Dongalor

“Can I pull this off?” Chancellor Dongalor’s big, er, ‘reveal’

Ahem… probably the main relevance to Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire is I recently watched it all again on DVD, and the line “Can I pull this off?” (besides being bloody hilarious in this scene) is very pertinent to me as an author who has been writing contemporary romance mainly in secret for a long time, but has not yet put it out there for readers to judge. I’m feeling brave. Perhaps not quite brave enough to slap on a bearskin codpiece, but definitely to sneak a book out under the radar, in the deluge of self-publishing going on in the world today 🙂

If you want to take a peek, or a download for 77p (99c) and judge for yourself, you can check it out on Amazon Kindle here.

I promise I don’t do executions in response to criticism, unlike Chancellor Dongalor 😉

One Stolen Kiss

Does not contain zombies… 🙂

L xxxx

Back to basics: So you want to write a novel?

How Not to Write a Novel

First – read this…

I’ve realised that a lot of my posts preach to the choir. Lots of in-jokes about indie writers, the behaviour of authors and reviewers on Amazon, and how not to make a twat of yourself online or while sending in submissions. Not to mention how much money you won’t be making, and the joys of sharing your book launch date with anything in the region of 10,000 other writers publishing their books on the same day.

But supposing you’re fresh to the blank page, taunted by ideas waiting to take on a form, and in love with the idea of holding your own book in your hands or gazing at it on your electronic tablet? (Trust me, if anyone’s going to be holding it in awe, you’ll be that person).

So I’m going to go all Delia Smith on you, and start at the beginning.

Starting with the simple egg – your idea, before it has hatched.

The Idea:

You start with an idea. But what genre is it? It can be anything, but it will need a description when you publish or submit, even if it’s only ‘general fiction’.

If it’s not your own idea, and another author is already minted by it, it’s only legal when it’s a ‘parody’. Make sure it has some decent jokes in, change the key names of characters and locations (viz, Barry Trotter), don’t write their exact prose, storylines, or copy their cover/title/author name verbatim, and you won’t be likely to get sued. Parodies are HUGELY popular. If you’re going to parody something that’s already massive, such as Harry Potter or Fifty… (of anything), make sure you Google search all of the “(Original title) parody/parodies” that are already published first. Even self-published authors can get stroppy if you write the same thing. Some of them are also lawyers in their spare time.

Writing parody is a good exercise if you’re new to writing, or have previously only written fan-fiction. You can’t publish fan-fiction with an ISBN or sell it online (that way litigation lies), but you can publish parody. Some territories are still sensitive about it, so the more you make it your own story, the better.

‘Memoirs’ are another opener onto first-time writing. But be aware that to avoid slaps from friends and family, and visits to Jeremy Kyle, it’s best to change all the names in your diary, and possibly your author name too. Change a few more things, then a few more, and hey presto – instant fiction, inspired by real life. But don’t publish something as ‘true-life’ when it clearly isn’t. That imaginary gryphon will be demanded as evidence.

Play with your idea for a while. Write down a list of “what ifs”. What if this happened, what if that happened? What if one of your characters turned out to be XXX? What if it was set in an asylum rather than a school? (Don’t use that one, it’s the plot of Girl, Interrupted and the movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sucker Punch, among many others). Keep playing until you’ve come up with the most exciting and original version of your initial idea that you can think of.

N.B: If you are writing a children’s story, avoid any themes that involve strange creatures, hairy or otherwise, hiding under their beds or turning up in their bedrooms and talking to them. Seriously. It’s just wrong. Go and have a serious chat to yourself, and start again. If you’re going to be a trusted author for young readers, any bodily hair envy and bedroom loneliness needs to be put aside while you write. These things have a way of turning up inappropriately in plotlines and passages written by the amateur author.

The audience:

It’s a good time to begin thinking about your potential audience (that’s assuming it isn’t ultimately limited only to yourself). What sort of lifestyle does your future reader have? What are their interests? (Also assuming that their primary interest isn’t to be in competition with you, feverishly typing away at their hors d’ouevre – sorry, latest ouverture/magnum opus – in their bedroom, wishing that they had a hairy chest and some good company).

Remember that if you are hoping to write with authority on any given subject, you may be in luck – and your first unknown reader will be that very expert you dream of being. So make your research the best it can possibly be. Try not to quote directly from Wikipedia, though. Especially not in speeches made by Churchill, or adventurers describing the landscape and population of Peru. You don’t want your first ever review announcing that you have quite clearly never set a heathen foot in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where the imaginary Mafia underbelly of your Victorian-era thriller is set. Yeah – better do some research first…

Characterisation vs. caricature:

Again, this where you have to make a distinction between general fiction, and parody.

If your hero is a time-travelling sock-puppet salesman assisted by various young Earthlings shanghaied on a mission to save the Universe repeatedly from the threat of laser-firing wheelie-bins powered by small gelatinous blobs, via the magical depths of his flying Portaloo – especially if his name is Doctor Why (more of a medical query than a name) – enjoy your own joke, and try again.

Or perhaps he is a 19th Century sleuth, Padlock Homes, who plays the cello, freebases Brylcreem, and stalks the streets of London in a Burberry Pack-a-Mac and matching sou’wester hat, haunted by the crimes of his nemesis Monsanto, to the ongoing befuddlement of of his male PA/secretary, Dr. Whatsapp.

We all love a quirky character. As well as making your character original (see above – or not), try not to give yours so many quirks that they are effectively crippled the moment they have to interact with anything. Whether it’s a bottle-opener, reading the mail, having a shower, talking to a shop assistant, or touching anything in the fridge.

Not every passing butterfly has to bring back six pages of traumatic (or idyllic) recall to the mind of your character. For a story to happen, your role-players need to have some functions that do not involve thoughts of a dead past love or an irrational fear of toilet paper.

You now have all you need to get writing.

Seriously – this is as good a time to start as any. Titles can come later. Synopsis can come later. Draft chapter plans if you want, or make prompt cards for certain events or plot points if you like. But the sooner you start, with your key ideas and key characters, the sooner you’ll find out if it’s an idea you want to run with, or something you lose interest in quickly, and drop. If it’s the latter, you don’t want thirty years’ worth of preparation to go to waste. Thirty minutes is long enough to have a story idea and a character idea ready in your head – and if you’re already an expert in any chosen subject matter, you don’t even need to do the essential research, because it’s already inside you.

Jump in with both feet – and remember: Innovate* don’t imitate**

*Unless it’s a parody…

**Credited to various, including Apple 😉

Let me know how you get on – and if I can answer any questions, I’ll do it in the next post.

L xxx

Netiquette for the indie author

Schmoozin' cocktail

Okay. So you’ve formatted and released your books, and established who your target audience is.

The next dilemma you’ll face, is how to market your work.

First of all, make sure you’ve written the best book that you can pull out of your head and heart. Not any other part of your body. If you’re dredging it up from elsewhere, the strain will show in every paragraph.

Secondly, make sure it has a clear and attractive cover.

Third, that the blurb is appetite-whetting enough to attract readers – don’t give too much away, but don’t be so vague that you could be describing pretty much any book. Try to avoid tag lines in the form of a question. It’s very pulp fiction noir, but if you’re not skilled in that particular genre, you’ll just come across as a lazy tag-line writer. Below are examples of weak tag lines:

~ Will he/she succeed?

~ Does love conquer all?

~ What will they do?

~ In a race against time, can they beat the clock?

~ Will truth/justice/honour prevail?

The above are all too vague and over-used. Number four, in particular, basically describes everything from the school run to the TV quiz show Countdown. You don’t actually need a tag-line. Just write a decent story, package it nicely, and keep your fingers crossed that enough folk will enjoy it to recommend it to one another. That’s the best form of promotion, because it doesn’t actively involve you.

I have one opinion about asking for reviews:

How to lose friends and irritate people.

Amazon Kindle frowns on reviews written by friends and family. Reviews posted on request in exchange for free books have to state in the text ‘I received a free/gifted book in exchange for my honest review.’ Editors, formatters, publishers, cover designers, contributors and other people involved in the book’s development and production cannot post reviews of the book. Any reviews unearthed seen to be breaching their guidelines are unceremoniously removed without notice. You can say all you want about the practises of major publishers and their methods, but down at the other end with the indies, you have to play fair. And if the book itself doesn’t live up to a ream of glowing, paid-for or solicited reviews, it’s one of the best ways to attract a shed-load of bad ones.

I don’t ask for reviews, but I’ll happily give away books if someone thinks they’d enjoy a book I’ve written. I don’t set them homework afterwards. I’ve seen good friends of authors run at the sight of them approaching on social occasions, crying for mercy the familiar pleas of “I haven’t finished reading it yet!” or “I don’t really know how to use the computer or post reviews on Amazon!”

It’s crass to treat your friends and family as a marketing machine for your work. Do you promote them and their business? Do you give them any help or support with their dreams and ambitions, whether it’s getting them a make-over, working to create the house and garden they most want, helping them find a date, arranging for them to have the car they’ve always dreamed of driving, writing them endless job references and endorsements? Because that’s what you’re asking for, in a nutshell. There is a mentality among some authors that family and friends are there to be used. If you need private feedback or approval, or help proofreading your book, ask one or two to take a look BEFORE you publish it. Don’t ask them to do your heavy lifting afterwards.

Be dignified.

Mannequin

Remember – you are the front window for your writing.

Authors themselves are the best support network, many of whom now have learned, to their cost, that nobody close to them socially is interested in their new hobby as a self-promotion machine, and liked them better while they were still only writing in their bedroom after school with paper and pen.

I was once asked to post the same review on several sites, having genuinely written a nice one of my own volition, because I enjoyed the book. I said no, explaining to the author that having it pop up on every outlet or listing for the book would instantly imply that it had been an insincere, solicited review, possibly paid for as well. You have to put your foot down when approached about these things yourself – it turns the whole author support network into a protection racket of back-scratching. If an author then leaves you a sour comment on your book, with you having either declined to review theirs or having not read it, most likely, ignore them and move on.

Don’t sink to their level. It won’t endear you to the audience. Trolling the internet is time wasted that you could be writing a bestseller in.

Make sure you are always working on the next thing, and having new ideas. There’s nothing sadder than pimping your one solitary book for years, waiting for Hollywood to call. In the same vein, make sure that you have a life, and are taking a healthy interest in the people around you from day to day – and not in the desperate search for material for your own work. What are their dreams? What are their life stories? When was the last time they took up a new hobby? For that matter, when was the last time you did?

I’ve got to the stage now where I’m starting to receive unsolicited spam from ‘social media experts’ on sites such a FB, LinkedIn and Twitter, who haven’t looked at what I do and seen that it’s also my own job. All they trawl for is the word ‘author’ and send out a pitch for their services, announcing that I can’t possibly have the time to promote my own books as well as write and that the cost of their services is very reasonable. Which is true. I only teach others how to promote their own books, in between writing my own books. And I’ve never had to spam or apply for work. I get referred by word-of-mouth, and have to turn down or suspend jobs all the time because I’m too busy. And because my job is so easy I’m sure most folk could do it, my I.T. and technical services are damn near rock-bottom 🙂

That’s one of the reasons I’ve written these tutorials. So long as you can write a good story, format it nicely, present it in an attractive way, behave yourself online, and not alienate all of your family and friends in person, you could get lucky and sell a handful of books. The best way to sell more books, is to write more books. If your readers are keen on your material, they’ll come back for more of it.

Remember, in the real world, selling yourself online isn’t everything. Getting on with life and enjoying yourself is. Make sure you leave time for that. It’s scary how fast the time passes while following your book’s progress up and down the Kindle charts, and trying to influence it in any way possible 🙂

L xxxxx

Busted – Here’s what I did this summer…

DIY brace for broken sternum

DIY nylon webbing and elastic brace for fractured sternum and disrupted sternomanubrial joint, August 2013 🙂

This injury was back in the middle of June, and I was reassured it was only bruised and that fractures to this part of the body are very unusual and would require a massive impact (I’m not going to describe it, your heads will spin). Six weeks later after starting to sustain some unusual muscle tears while practising tumbling, I realised my posture must be slightly out due to this original injury, and got a second X-ray. It turned out the first X-ray might as well have been taken from the surface of Mars, as it missed the break by miles.

Luckily it’s not something they operate on immediately, as it takes a long time to heal and they like to give it a chance to settle down by itself. So no training or practising over the summer holiday for me! Never mind that I was still training for the six weeks before it was diagnosed. It was probably good for me. I’m not very good at ‘resting’ whatever that means.

But the summer’s been good to me. I went to my first festival as an adult! Last time I went to festivals was the Polgooth Fair and Elephant Fayre in Cornwall in the 1970s and 80s, as a small kiddie, where you ate a jam sandwich and spent all day on the bouncy castles, as I remember. This year I was invited to Beautiful Days near Honiton, and it was amazing.

The Fold live in the Bimble Inn tent

The Fold performing live at Beautiful Days in the Bimble Inn tent

Curious Evenings with the Ogden Sisters in the Theatre Tent

The Ogden Sisters present a Night of Trance in the comedy Theatre Tent

Primal Scream on the Main Stage

A very blurry Primal Scream on the Main Stage

There’s too much to tell you, you’ll just have to go next year. Highlights for me, as well as the above, were the Cowboy comedy stage play, stand-up by Robin Ince, Tony Cowards and Tom Price among others, The Levellers (who came out to play football with the youngsters one afternoon as well as performing) and animal-costume theme day, which ran on into the night, with some very creative illuminated butterflies and jellyfish.

IMG-20130818-00256

LED Mr Men costumes

IMG-20130818-00236

Fire-stick twirling and juggling

It’s definitely a family festival, with no branding or sponsorship, and I hope they keep it this good, and clean and with such a great atmosphere, for many years to come. You could tell the class of folk who attended by the Airstream caravans and Hunter wellies, and the fact that the comedians couldn’t find any traditional festival crusties to pick on in the audience…

TOM PRICE: Anyone here from Wales, like me? Ah, you’re from Wales. What’s your name?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Lucien…

TOM PRICE: Lucien??! (laughs) Of course it is! I can see you practising your golf swing from here!

Lovely stuff! 🙂

Earlier, I had a few days away with family in Exmoor, and also dropped in to see the lovely Jane Alexander for tea and cake and writerly gossip while I was there. Before that, there was Hastings Pirate Day, with all the Captain Jack Sparrows you can shake a stick at… but if you want to see those, I’m going to be mean and ask you to check out their Facebook page, SPARROWS UK in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital – because it’s all in a good cause. Savvy? 🙂

L xxxxx

If you’d like to see ‘The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum’ featured in The Guardian…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

If you enjoyed The Zombie Adventures… parody novel, which I blogged here chapter by chapter last year (each post written straight off the top of my crazy head) you can now nominate it to be featured in this new Guardian series

Update: Until the end of July 31st 2013, you can download the eBook from Smashwords in their sitewide promotion for free using the promo code SW100

Funnily Enough…

The Kindle bestseller Funnily Enough, by the awesome Sophie Neville 🙂

Here’s how the latest bestseller happened to find its way onto Kindle in the first place…

In spring 2011, a conventional English rose of a lady popped down to her local photocopy and printer outlet, to have one of her screenplays bound. The intrepid Sophie Neville, actress, writer, charity-founder, explorer of darkest Africa, had written among other things waiting in her bottom drawer, a true-life, historical wartime romance based in Tanzania. She started to chat about it to the helpful young man at the counter.

The young man said, “My sister writes as well. Screenplays and books. She’s just published some on Amazon.”

Intrigued, Sophie scribbled out her telephone number and directions to her house.

These subsequently found their way to me, early one morning, when my Mum came over to feed her cat, who has adopted my front garden as his permanent pied-a-terre. My Mum told me I have to ring this woman, who is a local film producer and wants to see my screenplay.

Having finally found Sophie’s house, which wasn’t easy (Sophie usually draws far better maps, but in this case I ended up at the ferry port first), we met for the first time. Her house at the time was more of a work-in-progress than her writing. She had just gutted out the bijou manor-style house for a renovation, and plastic was still covering the structure where the conservatory would be. She and her husband were camped out in the annexe for the duration.

We had a cup of tea and a rather nice chat. It turned out that Sophie was the Sophie Neville who played ‘Titty’ from Swallows and Amazons, which I had probably seen at some point, between The Great Escape and The Railway Children in distant holiday-TV memory. And she was interested in reading my screenplay about bouncers, because she had a friend in the business who was developing some concept for TV about female personal security. Having been in security work as my main job for some time previously, including before and after SIA licensing, she wanted to know what my insights were.

So we did a read swap. She went off to read Heavy Duty and some first proof copies of Death & The City, and I went off to read Makorongo’s War. I quite enjoyed it. Not my usual subject matter, but it was good writing, and I could see it working well as a film.

In turn, Sophie liked Heavy Duty, and wanted to see more material. She also loved Death & The City, and was a useful spare pair of eyes to have when proof-reading. She started talking about me making supporting trailers for my script, and asking if I would write a screenplay of the novel. But having done producing myself previously, I did say I’d only work on further adaptation of my work if a company optioned it, and I was paid to do so as part of a contractual agreement. I’ve had a go in my own time at playing around with this sort of thing, but not at the request of anyone else. If someone else wants it for their own future purposes, they can pay for it 😉

Anyway, back to Sophie. Sophie had only one old out-of-date website, for her artwork, and an IMdB page. What concerned her was that if Will Smith was handed a copy of Makorongo, and he Googled her, he’d find a hundred other Sophie Nevilles, mostly young ladies in schoolgirl fancy dress on Facebook.

I remember the first time I sat at her computer, and she Googled herself on Images. She pointed at all these grinning photographs of young women on birthdays and hen nights, and asked me: “How do I get rid of all these girls, who are appearing here instead of me?”

Ahem… okay, well, I just write fiction about hit-men, I don’t think she could afford that sort of intervention… it’s all a bit Terminator when you think about it. But that’s not what she meant, of course. She wanted to have her photographs appearing in the top matches. The problem was, she only had about three photographs of herself online. So, we started talking about WordPress, and Twitter, and Youtube, and blog pages, where she could add images that would start appearing in a Google search – they can’t appear if they don’t exist in cyber-space.

And she also wanted to publish her diaries and letters, which she’d had typed up for some time, and edited, and even at one point had an agent some years ago, until he passed away – hopefully not the subject of Googling with extreme prejudice. So I introduced her to the wonders of KDP, Createspace, Lulu, OpenOffice, and Authonomy.

It took a while, as I found Sophie likes the socialising, networking and marketing part more than the technical – so it was me ranting at the computer and scanner and various uploaders. Having taken her through the process of setting up pages on WordPress, she entered her bio, some photographs, and some links to her Facebook and Twitter and IMdB, and then asked me how you got people to look at it.

“Well, you have to start writing posts on it.”

“I did one. And those girls are still appearing in Google Images. How do I remove them?”

*Cough* Okay. So I explained about continuing to add posts and images to a WordPress blog, essentially what a blog entails, with interesting anecdotes, stuff you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Basically, more posts = more matches to your name in Google. You can’t just ‘have other matches removed’ – as if they’re something you can delete from a folder in your own hard drive – but you can add more of your own.

And then she’d take me to look at the main house (still in progress) and ask me where the best place to put a stove island and an extractor hood was. Usually in the kitchen, I find.

So she started writing about being in Swallows and Amazons. And not just a little – she had a lot to write about. She’d kept her diaries from 1973, and also had her father’s own behind-the-scenes footage which could be edited into Youtube clips. Her memory is so good, within a short time followers were flocking to read about the filming that took place on Coniston Water, in real boats, and where the cast and crew hung out, what they got up to, and what else they went on to work in. Half of the technical crew seem to have won Oscars since, working on films like The King’s Speech.

But I have to say, the best stuff doesn’t make it onto the blog. The best stuff comes out while she’s sitting next to me, maybe while I’m cutting footage of the crew eating lunch, and suddenly I’ll hear about who wasn’t really there as part of ‘Wardrobe’ at all. A bit of extra-curricular seamstressing, maybe… I recall her laughing and pointing at a clip saying “How did he get hold of a boat? He was in charge of the chemical toilet. He told all the girls on the set that he was the producer!”

Shortly, due to the matches she was creating by her regular posts and media, more matches for Sophie began appearing in Google searches, and she stopped worrying about what Will Smith would think. The occasional Facebook girl would pop up, but not enough to ask me any more awkwardly-worded questions about displacing them 🙂

In the meantime, we were formatting Funnily Enough, her diary from 1991, when she arrived home from South Africa to work for the BBC, and abruptly collapsed with CFS. But instead of a mis-lit about illness, it’s a British romp of true-life, about an English upper-class family all working in television and film (including their famous pets), while their adult daughter returns home to bed for ten months, unable to do much more than watch the pratfalls of everyone passing through, praying for God to see her through to health and sanity again.

I loved it, and I’m neither a true-life or religious reader. My first novel was about teenage blackmailers and Satanists, but Sophie and I share the same sense of the satirical, so I could see immediately why she enjoyed Death & The City on reading the first draft.

There were a few typographical issues and edits, but it was pretty much ready to publish, once the file was set up with her illustrations included (colour for the Kindle, if your app is on a colour screen). I would occasionally query things, like for example, a dog’s rather questionable name…

“Was ‘Dogger’ really that dog’s name?”

“Yes, why?”

“Do you know what ‘dogging’ means…?”

“No, what?”

And then I would tell her. And she would laugh. “Oooh – we have to leave it in!”

Anywho… Things were going pretty well – she’d done some promotions over Christmas, and had a book launch at Ashton House. Sales of print versions through Lulu.com direct were going well, and the ebook trickled along too.

Then, as the reviews started to come in, other feedback followed it, usually from her sisters, and old friends. “We were wondering… would you mind changing the name of…” It seems that although they’d all read it ten years ago, and said yes to it all, now they were getting older, some sort of decorum had entered their lives. And although yes, they’d love to be associated with a successful book, perhaps certain things could be moved to a respectful arm’s length, when facing the church and pony club circuit.

These requests seemed to be turning up daily for about two months. I’d arrive at Sophie’s having just uploaded and approved a new version, and she’d greet me with “More changes, I’m afraid… we need to change ‘Seargent’ to ‘Field-Marshall’, and So-and-So wants their neighbour’s house name taken out because they’re trying to sell it…” Nothing to do with the fact that Fred West was doing a lot of driveways and patios around there at the time it was written, honest…

So I’d argue for some things to stay in, especially when one reading group of her sister’s, who didn’t know Sophie, were apparently only interested in gossip about her family and not in the fact it was Sophie’s diary, and wanted her parts of it edited out entirely. I argued that I’m about as far away from a spiritual Christian memoir fan as it’s possible to be (sitting here at home right now listening to Korn’s slash metal Greatest Hits Vol.1, wearing a Hell Bunny t-shirt, and wondering why I’m lacking Pringles nearby while the lawn wants mowing and the cats want biscuits) and I loved it. And it’s Sophie’s memoir. She’s entitled to be in it…

The problems arose from these multiple edits when the PDF converter got tired of all the shuffling around of various words, and started to drop images out in the print copy conversion, or add blank pages, where the carefully-laid-out pages were no longer justified. We had some revised proofs back with missing pictures, or text obliterated by images that had shunted. Lulu’s customer services gave us a great tip about downloading doPDF, which I used in conjunction with OpenOffice to export PDFs more reliably. I made a point of doing a page-by-page check of every single new version of the PDFs on the screen in front of me before uploading them. When having to do this with new edits every few days until the furore calmed down, it was frustrating. Sophie was of the opinion that she should be aiming to please everyone she knew, or even didn’t know, and although it’s sweet and admirable, none of those people know the work that she’s already put in. Or that if you take out a paragraph, every image after it has jumped, and nothing is where you last had it. Blank spaces appearing and page numbers obliterated and everything. It all has to be re-justified and/or re-sized manually.

It also meant editing the ebook file separately in parallel, as it’s a completely different format to a print PDF. And although there was no problem with the pagination in that, as a Kindle book is a continuous file, the images liked to give themselves a random aspect ratio occasionally, or jump off-centre, so those would have to be adjusted manually too.

…I got my own back though. You’ll have to read the sequel to see it, but all these name-changes and place-name changes led me to be, shall we say, creative – in the naming of a certain village 😉 Sophie did give me the go-ahead, but still…!

Most of these edits arrived as we were in the middle of formatting the sequel, Ride the Wings of Morning – Sophie’s letters to and from Africa, when she escaped back there to work on horseback safaris, and immediately recovered from her illness. So some of these little changes had to be made in that document as well. Again, the minor edits screwed up a lot of the pagination. We’d done a perfectly good upload and got some proofs back, and then the teeny tiny changes were necessary again. The PDF was perfect, but the uploader didn’t want to know – it would crawl to the end of the ‘uploaded’ bar, and then freeze – you couldn’t move onto the next step, and the document never transferred into her online files.

Due to the much larger number of illustrations, the file by this time for the paperback of RtWoM was ten times bigger than Funnily Enough, at 111MB. After seven attempts at uploading the new revision onto Sophie’s print-on-demand page, yesterday I downloaded an FTP client access program and copied the file directly onto their server. It took three times as long, but arrived in one piece in her file list, and could then be imported into the new revision of her book, which is now public. Any more changes will have to get past me 😉

The last thing I found in the ebooks, completely by chance and just before the London Book Fair 2012 promotion, was that the endnotes didn’t convert into links on KDP. I was checking it after loading it onto Sophie’s Android tablet, and realised that the automatic superscripted endnote links were dud. They’d appear at the end of the book, but the mutual hyperlinks set automatically by the document in Word were lost. No idea why. It meant you couldn’t navigate them. So I went through and bookmarked them all manually, inserting hyperlinks that did work. Just in time for the promo on Kindle to start last weekend.

Well, Sophie was at home on Facebook and Twitter, happily sharing some links to her London Book Fair freebie. I was probably asleep until lunchtime, crawled out of bed as usual, looked at my own Book Fair freebie promo for Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition and decided it could get on by itself as it had already had 30 downloads in my sleep, and I’d Tweet when my laptop could be bothered to load Twitter. I looked at Sophie’s Funnily Enough, and it was ZOOMING up the UK charts.

Over the next four days, Funnily Enough reached #2 in all categories on Amazon UK Kindle Free, #1 in Humour, #1 in Parenting & Families, and #1 in Self-Help. And after the London Book Fair promo ended, it’s still selling, and already closing in on the top 100 paid, having cut a swathe back into the top ten of its categories.

If you want a taste of the classic, upper-crust British sense of humour at its best, the type from Ealing comedy to Fawlty Towers, check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Funnily Enough and Ride the Wings of Morning, both by Sophie Neville, are available on Kindle worldwide.

L xxx 🙂