The Cosmic Carbon Cycle Cash Machine

Carbon_cycle

See Wikipedia

“I say, Jeeves!” Prime Minister Cloney Tamarind shouted one morning during breakfast, spluttering Krave crumbs all over his recently-updated Facebook status. “What’s this filthy rumour that we’re not producing more carbon? How are we supposed to charge people for something we don’t actually deliver?”

“So what’s new, dear?” Mrs Tamarind muttered, sipping her Chai Red Bull. The word ‘charge’ causing her to make a mental note to replace the batteries in her bedside drawer, after yet another all-nighter with the PM away at his desk, playing Draw My Thing and Words With Infidels online.

“I don’t know, Sir,” said Jeeves dutifully, topping up the Worcester sauce bucket in the modest silver breakfast table cruet, with the ceremonial watering-can. “I’m only your Tesco’s delivery driver.”

And he left the receipt on the table, before being strong-armed out of No.10 by the children.

“Someone is spreading lies about there only being a finite amount of carbon on the planet!” the Prime Minister said grimly, narrowing his eyes at a post by Markiplier about the conspiracy of squirrels, as he bit suspiciously into into his peanut butter on crumpet. The crumpet duly squealed, and got down from the table in a huff to go and powder her nose, and he hollered after her. “When you come back, Miss MoneySupermarket, I want you to schedule an emergency meeting with… with… the chap with the briefcase who reads out my annual bank statement to me, and some top scientists! Preferably ones that are not in the middle of writing their autobiographies, speaking at TED talks, or filming for the BBC!”

***

“This is how it works,” said the PM in his Ovaltine Office, while Deputy PM Rick Shaw took notes and wrote a song for the bluegrass band he was planning to run away with on his imminent retirement at the next election, and Miss MoneySupermarket changed the most senior scientist’s nappy. “We tell the public that we’re still producing too much carbon. And carbon is a bad thing. It makes the air smell like poo and we all have to wash our cars more often and Hollywood actresses tell our children not to eat it as it’s bad for your image. So the public feel guilt. That’s the emotion we all need them to feel because it makes their wallets fall open more easily. And they give us more money, and we promise to clean up the carbon we make every day to power their homes and cars and let them lead happy lives with happy Facebook status updates saying how much of the planet they’ve saved today by walking the dogs instead of calling them a taxi. And now I’m being told we don’t make carbon. It exists in different states and goes around and around by itself like a rotisserie chicken, which incidentally, if left on the spit too long, turns into a block of black stuff that is essentially carbon. So how are we not making any new fucking carbon?!” His voice became the shrill squeak of a Clanger. “How do we claim there’s a carbon footprint when I can’t show them even a fuzzy Youtube video of a giant fucking footprint? How do we stop the damned carbon that we do have from degassing into the oceans and decaying out of plants and dead things back into the soil and reproducing into armies of adopted celebrity children and their godforsaken acres of burger meat that they grow up on, so we can prove there’s a problem? How do we make it get off its carbon bicycle and off the geological ring-road? I swear I can hear the same carbon atoms laughing at me every time they pass out of the Queen’s bottom on parade!”

“Well,” said the most senior scientist, once he was back in his pram and holding the official Talking Stick. “In order to actually create carbon, you would require an alchemist.”

“Like the chap on Harley Street who writes out my wife’s prescriptions – Doctor Theophilus Hoodoobeggar?”

“Even more powerful than that, sir.”

“Wonderful. Find me such a person.”

And within a short interval, wherein there was popcorn, crisps, a brief performance by Shakespeare’s Sister, and Deputy PM Rick Shaw had his Large Coke confiscated for burping carbon atoms in a sarcastic tone of voice, a small waxy-complexioned individual with a foreign accent was ushered in and asked to sweep up the crumbs. This was minutely embarrassing when it turned out that this frumpy individual with the odd knee-socks and pink housecoat was Head of Alchemicals at the University of Southampton (Ten Years Since Last Burned to the Ground).

“Tell me, young man,” began Cloney Tamarind, once the brush and dustpan were discreetly taken away from Professor Nagy and he had been furnished with a chair, one with built-in cushions and tie-dyed antimacassars, courtesy of the children. “Is it possible to make carbon out of thin air?”

“If that air contains, for example, traces of methane, CO2, volcanic aerosols,” said the young professor dismissively, swinging one leg over the arm of the comfy chair and loosening his early-morning pyjama-bottom wedgie.

“Remind me to have a word with the Queen about rogue volcanic aerosols on parade in future,” the PM muttered aside to Miss MoneySupermarket, who was now on dustpan duty, giving him a very sour look from under her falsies. “But Professor Nagy – tell me, how do we make carbon from nothing? We’ve been telling the public about our overproduction of carbon for decades. We can’t have them all going on Wikipedia and finding out that no matter how much we dig up or burn, the Earth just – sucks it all up away again.”

“Oh, you don’t make something from nothing.”

“I think you underestimate politics and taxation, young man.” Prime Minister Tamarind wagged a finger, until the Deputy PM managed to wrench his own hand free and return to drawing a picture of an eye from a tutorial on DeviantArt. Eventually, this would become the logo of his bluegrass band, and hopefully BMG or Virgin would copy it and have to pay out royalties. “You are Head of Alchemicals at a top… an outstanding… a not very recently burned-down University, at… is Southampton a real place? I always thought it was like Mordor, or Narnia… rumours of organised football matches being played, huge, balding men roaming loose, wenches roaming looser… nothing else… anyway, you must know something useful, yes?”

“A very clever deduction,” said the Professor, and lifted his top hat to take down his elevensies, which with foresight he had brought with with him. As he opened his packet of cheesy Quavers and dunked them in his Earl Grey, he announced vaguely. “I can make gold, of course. But not what you are interested in.”

“GOLD?” everyone else in the room echoed, including an Ovaltine burglar who was hiding camouflaged in the chandelier above them, in a silver rhinestone ninja gi, and Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had forgotten to pick up his plastic carrier baskets.

“Not out of carbon, I hope!” the Prime Minister clapped a hand over his mouth, and this time Deputy PM Rick Shaw had to use a baby-wipe to clean the smear of L’Oreal For Gender Neutral Persons What Shave Often aftershave balm off his fingers before returning to his Nintendo 3DS, now playing Monster Hunter Ultimate in a team with Kim Jong Un. “Excess carbon is worth more than gold in guilt extortion value terms, I hope you realise.”

“No, not carbon.” The Professor unwrapped a complimentary chocolate mint from a private stash purloined from the coat-check girl at Bournemouth Spearmint Rhino.

“Then what do you make gold out of?” demanded Miss MoneySupermarket, speaking out of turn and still on her knees, elbow-deep in shag pile carpet, probing for popcorn kernels.

“Platinum.”

The groan in the room was audible. In fact it was so audible that Audible automatically deducted its monthly Amazon account payment from the entire Conservative Party, as a result of trying to sneak a free download.

The ninja in the chandelier began to cry, and was heard Skyping his mother in Malaysia, who was apparently not in the best of moods either judging by the verbal lashing that ensued.

“Fine, as soon as Jeremy Clarkson has finished scraping all the platinum off the roads of the UK and Isle of Man with his tongue, you can have it and turn it into gold for all I care,” the PM seethed. “What I want right now, is a shit load of carbon. I want to be able to show people a carbon mountain on the News at Five. I want those Bigfoot hunters to find a carbon footprint so big that it’s only identified by the corn on its little toe proving to be Alaska. Fetch me someone who can make carbon out of nothing. Fetch me – fetch me – Boba Fett!”

The groan, still fading into echoes around the Ovaltine Office, abruptly became a gasp. And then a horrible, gagging, choking, furry noise, as Miss MoneySupermarket had inhaled the sheepskin rug, right from under the most senior scientist’s bottom…

To be continued… 😉 xxx

How to write romance fiction – or, “Come and Have a Go if You Think it’s Hard Enough…”

SHE TO HIM

by Robert Graves

To have it, sweetheart, is to know you have it

Rather than think you have it;

To think you have it is a wish to take it –

Though afterwards you will not have it –

And thus a fear to take it.

Yet if you know you have it, you may take it

And know that you still have it.

Robert Graves, who wrote the most terrifying Emo-Gothic love poems, somehow nailed it with this short one above. It summarises the bonding and commitment, trust and faith that true love between soul-mates brings, which so many of the human race are still pursuing.

Another couplet of Graves’ at the end of the poem The Finding of Love, “With end to grief, With joy in steadfastness” illustrates how humanity as a whole – not just readers and writers – endlessly seek the comfort and escapism of a ‘happy ever after’.

If it evades us in reality, magical words on the page, perfect words read aloud, and words of everlasting love, whether spoken or sung, are summoned to feed our empty unrequited souls. Grief is what we experience when love is unattainable or impossible, even if we’ve never experienced it first-hand. It’s one of the universal experiences that as a human we can feel or sense is an entitlement, and although some of us have similarly strong feelings about obtaining success, money, fame and other artificial achievements created by humankind, love remains the most mysterious and elusive to pin down.

All the best Hollywood blockbusters rely on it. Blockbuster novels rely on it. Whether it’s romantic love, family love, love of pets, childhood love of toys, love of friends, love of country, love of one’s own faith, love of knowledge, love of art – love is the glue that sticks eyes to the screen or page. Even when we think it’s not there, or think we’re enjoying an amazing story without all that slushy stuff, truly epic writing has a way of sneaking it past us. These writers know that the magic and mysteriousness of uncompromised ‘love’ is the true universal language of the narrative spirit.

Stories that pretend to depict emotionless lead characters often have a supporting act, somewhere (if not an outright sidekick), who is secretly, sympathetically, and irrationally in love with them, causing the audience to believe that this sociopath is not just coldly charismatic but also lovable, beneath their tough outer shell.

We all want what that secondary character wants. Through their eyes, we think we can see through the icy armour too – even as the emotionally-dysfunctional protagonist denies it in as many words. The only emotions they can express are anger and frustration, usually at the sidekick’s insistence that they really are warm and fuzzy inside like a cashmere hot water-bottle cover, instead of being a calculating mess of grudges, hourly work rates, and logic.

If you take the love-struck idiot out of the story, er, I mean, the romance angle, viz, the infatuated sidekick/concerned neighbour/timid single parent (stereotypically new to job/town), you’re left with the Grumpy Old Psycho Codger – who was usually unmasked at the end of Scooby Doo.

So at least one of your characters has to be the manifestation of the most relatable human condition we are aware of.

By that, I don’t mean we introduce them asleep, or on the lavatory.

Imagine if going to the toilet was considered to be the universal narrative – no wonder artists and poets had to invent the concept of falling in love, so much more scope for plot in the complexities of relationships than in solitary bodily functions! Even DH Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover dissected this question. What if as much discourse in life and literature was dedicated to the analysis of lavatorial visits as it is to love and sex? Would over-attentiveness to any other simple necessity of life transform it into the vast, mysterious, lucrative, umm, intellectual and artistic industry that love and relationships are today?

(Looking at any comedy written in the 20th century, many people would say that scatological humour certainly had its heyday).

So we know that love and romance appears in various forms in most of what we consume. There may be different degrees of passion and wholesomeness, but it’s there, to tease, tantalise and inspire.

Even the most introverted, inexperienced desk-pilot like me will have the occasional rose-tinted steampunk-goggles moment, unexpectedly, in real life.

Those moments have to be treasured. One day I might have the need of a rose-tinted romantic analogy for my writing, in between toilet jokes, zombie anatomy, pop-culture psychology, and basic engineering mathematics and principles…

Barbara Cartland was the British doyenne of romantic literature in the mid-1900s. She was prolific, pink, frilly, the heroine of many real-life humanitarian campaigns in her lifetime (including fair wages for midwives and nurses, strangely enough an issue highlighted again today) – and perhaps economical in her writing practice. In her 1978 art history hardcover ‘Book of Love and Lovers’ focusing on art and its romantic subjects through the centuries, you can detect the skill she had in sparse, glossy (of the time), attention-grabbing, scandal-suggestive (but not explicit) prose – brief and to the point, rather like the gossip columnists of today’s celebrity magazines:

Napoleon: “On the night of the Coronation in the Tuileries, ablaze with thousands of lights, Napoleon dined alone with Josephine. He thought her crown ‘suited her so well’ that he made her wear it during dinner. Afterwards they went to bed.”

Napoleon, continued: “Eighteen, with slanting cat-eyes, Marie-Louise was more sensual than Josephine. On her wedding night, delighted with Napoleon’s love-making, she asked him to ‘do it again’. Impatient to have a son, he carried her off to bed before she reached Paris.”

I wonder if she knew she was pre-empting her own parodies?

Matt Lucas as Barbara Cartland in Little Britain

“Chapter One… The End.” Matt Lucas dictates as Barbara in ‘Little Britain’

Today’s romance novels are aimed at a wide range of interests and age groups, but the main thing they have in common is their function as brain-candy. Feelgood hormone promoters such as serotonin and oxytocin, stress-reducers and blues-busters. Whether it’s a romantic comedy, a historical epic, a paranormal or SF romance, a coming-of-age drama or a romance/crime thriller, your target is reaching the emotional context that other plots and prose do not reach.

Romance is all about positive pattern-matching for the characters and the reader as the relationships in the storyline develop, so you may have to write in an ‘alert’ state if you are new to the genre. This means being aware of your similes and your descriptions of the protagonists’ reactions and internal responses to one another. Your own writing has to be congruent with the mood you want to set – your whole book is presenting the ‘mood’ to the reader.

Unless your mood is ‘wooden’ or ‘flat-packed furniture’ you wouldn’t set your scenes by basic stage direction:

He walked in and closed the door behind him. He went to the chair in the living room and sat in it. He turned on the TV. She came in from the kitchen and asked what he wanted for dinner. He said pizza. She went back to the kitchen and switched on the oven.

…And stuck her own head in it, most likely, at that point.

What would you do with this paragraph? Does it sound like a paragraph from a romance novel? If it was a romantic comedy, what could you make happen? Can he smell another failed baking attempt as he walks in? Has she been caught washing the dog in the kitchen sink? What the hell has happened to his favourite chair? Where’s the dialogue itself?

You don’t have to go over the top, either…

“Honey, I’m home!” he announced as he burst into the hallway, a torrent of autumnal leaves following him in off the street. He was just in time for Storage Hunters! He dashed to the living-room, scattering leaves, coat, briefcase, pants and shoes in his headlong run, and dove flat onto the sofa, grabbing the remote. He nearly careered straight over the far end – damn wax furniture-polish on the leatherette again! “Where are you? And what’s that smell?”

“Nothing sweetheart! Must be the new doggy kibble mix,” she greeted him, appearing in the doorway, drenched from head to foot, holding a sink plunger in one hand and a dog-lead in the other. To him she looked as amazing as ever, and her scent today was Eau de Petit Chien. “We’ve only just got in from our walk. Shall I start dinner?”

“Great! Can we have pizza?” Only the thought of a piping hot spicy pizza was stopping him from jumping on her right now, and subsequently missing Storage Hunters.

“Sure!” she beamed, and went to make a lot of noise in the kitchen, turning on the fan oven and rummaging in the cupboards, while she discreetly rang Domino’s and ordered a large stuffed crust Pepperoni and two rounds of garlic bread…

Well, I’m already hooked, knew I shouldn’t have started that one… anyway, you see the difference? Same scene – two different ways of writing and setting the mood. It’s the same approach when writing any genre fiction. In horror you want to instill fear, in crime thriller you want to excite, in comedy you want to raise a chuckle (or at least a wry smirk). You don’t have to go as far as my bit of parody above, though…

What you want, is to imagine or remember a romantic mood – sometimes those can be the briefest flashes of inspiration, a piece of music, a dream you once had (as I did with One Stolen Kiss), a face you once saw… and keep that mood alive as you write. Don’t let other moods spoil it. The author’s mood will dictate the style of writing, so if you need certain music, or a scented candle beside you, or a hot chocolate, indulge yourself while writing romance. (You can go to the gym later).

Treat your romance writing as you would your actual romance.

Make it ‘special writing time’ – if you aren’t convincing yourself, who are you going to convince? It doesn’t mean you have to have the Ann Summers website open in the browser, or a wealthy dating guru’s webinar on dating NLP techniques channelled into your headphones. Treat yourself well while writing, think happy thoughts, plan how you’ll spend that first 99p you earn from your book on a treat from eBay (seriously, I won designer shoes for 99p that no-one else bid on!)

Imagine how happy you’d want to feel after reading a good romance – and work with that.

Romance is one of the genres that is easy to promote and has reader peer-recommendation networks already in place – you don’t have to stress about that. Put aside any thoughts about promoting and selling at this stage. Just enjoy writing the story.

Some authors, who are married or in relationships, find that writing romance fiction for the first time can be awkward, worry about being judged when it reaches the public, or, in contrast, are keen to use it as a form of sneaky self-disclosure.

Basically, write what you’re comfortable with – but if you’re feeling the strain, or the words coming out appear to be pointing back at you in an accusatory fashion, try being someone else while you write. Invent an author name for romance fiction.

That’s what I did. I find while I’m being Lauren the romance author, I’m a completely different writer. I don’t have my usual insecurities and hang-ups, I don’t worry what my writing says about me, and I’m not thinking about cars and dieting and exercise and zombies instead. That last one, definitely the important one, in my case.

And if you’re concerned about the nitty-gritty, or the pressure to join the more explicit ranks of books out there, you can find advice on writing bedroom shenanigans here, in a post I wrote a while back before I attempted it myself. I mean writing it, of course 🙂

L xxx

If you’re seeing this post in your email inbox, and wondering how it got here, you can change or turn off email notifications in your WordPress Reader by clicking on EDIT below each blog you follow in the list here – https://wordpress.com/following/edit/

The Voodoo Viewpoint: Is new media stealing our souls and memories?

Halloween bookshelf

I haven’t blogged for a while, having had new things to deal with through the summer and autumn along with writing, and waiting for other things to be resolved – everyday life has got in the way, and all of it worthy of my time – so I can honestly say I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not procrastinating online too much.

This post has been on my mind for a while over the past year, and I’ve turning it over further in my mind since a topic came up on Facebook regarding the well-roasted old chestnut of ebook vs. print books, and what might supplant them in the future. When I made my comment, I didn’t realise how much of an observation it really was. But the thought of it keeps returning to me, so I’ll attempt to dissect it further now. (I’ve used ‘Voodoo’ in the title as I was originally going to post it as Voodoo Spice first – but there is another relevance to the reference).

My comment on the post was:

I think real books will stick around for another reason – the same reason as real music disc collections, and real movie DVDs, and real photo albums. The death of these things will mean the end of being able to remember lost loved ones. Imagine going into an elderly relative’s last residence, and instead of shelves full of their favourite media that you can pick up and read and smell, and admire, all that’s there is a computer tablet full of password-protected cloud-storage erotica. Supposing they’re survived by 20+ family members all wanting a memento? Will they have to take turns hacking into his or her tablet to read their, erm, favourites???

It’s not only the issue of having physical objects with which to remember a loved one, though. When you first make a new friend, visit their home for the first time, you see immediately by their books, music, film collections, and photographs what you have in common. Without those, it takes far longer to define. How do you learn about a person who wears nothing on their sleeve in real life? Are they hiding something about their personality, their cultural and entertainment tastes, behind password-protected anonymous digital storage products? How much of their social media persona is genuine – do they really like Top Gear, or do they just ‘Like’ it on Facebook? How long does it take to make early judgements of compatibility when all you see in their home is the faceless packaging and housing of technology? Is this creating the hacking, snooping, prying, suspicious culture that troubles present-day relationships?

Are we sacrificing our personalities, our ability to connect with one another in real life without the social media screens, in favour of electronic packaging?

Back to the subject of bereavement and memories, there is another agenda surfacing to consider.

Electronic media itself has no re-sale value. The tablets and electronic devices can be re-sold, but they lose value in the very short term. Unlike physical books, vinyls, cassettes, picture frames, CDs, and DVDs – when you buy anything in digital format, to watch, read or listen to, its solvency value is zero. So even if your descendants, friends and family don’t want to share the digital tablet and know your passwords to enjoy your *ahem* favourites, they can only sell the tablet itself. Even if you have bought 70,000 books, movies, and songs in your lifetime, they do not add up to £70,000 worth of house clearance on ebay to divide among the mourners. They add up to zero.

They money you spend on electronic books and media to fill your device has gone for good. You cannot donate the products to an Oxfam bookshop after you have enjoyed them in order for others to benefit. You cannot have a yard sale or a car boot fair stand of portable entertainment to fund a party, or to pay a few bills. You have not invested your money in anything physically reminiscent that can be enjoyed as part of the soul of a lost loved one, or liquidated as an asset in the future.

The money has gone for good, into the great black hole of the business that also sold you the device to enjoy it on, or to store in some online cloud.

So in the future, without personal possessions for family and friends to remember us by – not even the chance to flick through the same books and photo albums we held, and no idea how to access our family photographs and music – and more and more social lives being conducted online – how will anyone remember their grandparents and great-grandparents beyond faces on a screen?

Will the youngest family members have the sense of identity and individual heritage that children before the digital age grew up with?

Will old people just die and disappear, leaving nothing behind but an online account full of media they spent thousands on, which is worth precisely nothing to their descendants even if they have the ability to access it? Will their living memories and personalities evaporate the second you tap on ‘Confirm shut down/log off device’?

Will folk start leaving clauses on their departure, that no-one is to hack into the tablet at all to avoid finding out how much porn and erotica they downloaded to keep them warm in their old age?

Never mind what to do with Granny, the last Will and Testament says we have to burn her Kindle first… aptly named device, if ever there was one. I see a new business opportunity looming – the “Kindle Crematorium” where dirty old reading habits go after you die…

It’s a mystery that leaves me very curious. I already find houses without books, music, photograph or film collections very odd – rather like pictures of home interiors in advertising, with no identity of the occupants visible. Sterile, like a showroom to sell a product or furniture lifestyle – not a working, living home. And if that is what remains in the future, when individuals die, what is left to know of them? An indentation in the sofa, perhaps – where they sat while playing Candy Crush Saga online?

So never mind that a computer tablet doesn’t provide the same decorative impact as a bookshelf, or provide the same soundproofing from your neighbours. Never mind that it’s a good way of hiding your reading habits, and a bad way of storing your nekkid selfies. It’s also a good way of spending your children’s inheritance – permanently. Throwing your small change onto the Kindle Fire (literally), never, ever to return as second-hand small change, ever again. Quite possibly thrown away along with the material potential for any of your descendants to remember you for more than one surviving generation…

Happy Halloween! 🙂 xxx

If you want to learn to how to format a print-on-demand book, publish and distribute for free, click here for my tutorial. You can also learn how to format ebooks and multimedia booksIf those still light your candle 😉 x

Tutorial – How to Write Literary Fiction

Milford

Here’s how the world’s most famous online encyclopedia describes Literary Fiction

First, you have to have a grasp of what it is.

My English teacher at school, Steve Ridgeway, spent three years trying to convince me that English Literature was the best subject in the world. I hated every minute of it. Hated all the analysing, the digging around in historical events, the unearthing of metaphors, the excavating of the original authors’ motivations – which as far as I was prepared to see, was “Get into someone’s pants and end all this miserable artistic solitude.”

But I was paying attention all that time, just so I could be fully aware of what and why I was loathing the subject so much. Less than two years later, I wrote my first 110,000-word novel. And I started with my own issues, and motivation, and metaphors, before weaving a story around them – in exactly the way I’d been taught that literature was intended to develop.

In recent weeks, seeing the subject discussed online, I’m starting to wonder if in fact I was the ONLY one paying attention in class.

There’s an urban myth that literary fiction can be simplified and summarised as ‘character-driven, not plot-driven’.

Not true, in itself. If you’re going to construct literary fiction by method, you need to take it back a few steps from the mere concept of ‘complex characters’.

The characters themselves may be metaphors or illustrations of events the author has witnessed or experienced, the embodiment of personal demons or guardian angels, or even satirical/serious representations of real historical figures in another form – animal-form, child-form (see ‘Lord of the Flies’).

Those characters are a way for the author to illustrate and show interaction with forces outside of their own/the key character’s control, whether those are forces of good, evil, or apathy. You’re going to give voice and persona to issues you want to expose or confront through the medium of narrative – the issue might be ‘repression’ or ‘addiction’ or ‘vanity’ or ‘obsession’, for example.

The key character is going to go on a journey, either internal, external or both, with or via these other issues (supporting characters). The outcome for the key character in the story is growth/change/challenge (moral and/or physical). As well as his or her demons and guardians, what social and economic factors influence their progress?

If you have strong views on a certain aspect of your culture, what part of your own existing knowledge would you use in a metaphor for the situation in the story?

For instance: You might have a military background, and have a novel set in a supermarket stock warehouse. Instead of the team being run as you imagine a regular stock warehouse might be, it precisely reflects a military regime. That’s using your life experience to write two stories in one. You’re including your autobiographical experience and observations, which anyone in the military reading it would recognise, but also you are introducing it to an unsuspecting audience of less specific, day-in-the-life books, who might not read a military novel.

Another example would be if you wanted to write literary fiction set in a school, but you have experience of or have researched cults and sects. You don’t describe the school as a cult-affiliated school, or have wannabe wizards turning up there hoping to find out what happened to their missing parents. You write about a normal school. But the actions of the characters, as in the previous example, illustrate that there is another side to the story – that the school, the setting, the social culture within the walls, is a metaphor for a different story.

In a way, literary fiction is “mash-up” fiction. You tell an unfamiliar tale in the guise of a familiar one, a cloaking device to reach and educate audiences that you otherwise wouldn’t. You are breaking the class and culture barrier, in the hope that a greater audience than the one you would reach with only a single military story, or a single cult story, will identify with it – and through that identification, find common ground on both sides of the fence.

You also need to examine your motivation as the author. Pretty much most (grown-up) fiction (and some fairytales) involves something wanting to get into something else’s pants, so there won’t be any nagging about that right now – although you might want to read this first, and perhaps this as well. Maybe even this, if you really can’t stop yourself.

Because the author of literary fiction is of as much interest to the academic as the novel itself, and if like me, future generations of incandescently fuming students are going to be made to pick apart your work until everything you’ve ever done is bare bones laid out for everyone to see, you don’t subsequently want them stalking you on social media, turning up at your book signings or on your doorstep shouting unintelligible things about the state of your mind, the gutter it lives in, and your pants, until they have got it out of their systems and their medications kick in.

Put it this way – a desire to share your insight, wisdom, and life experience in the guise of another tale, to educate and find common ground across class and cultural boundaries, is a healthy motivation. I wouldn’t pin too much hope on becoming a millionaire overnight and installing electric security gates against the aforementioned angry insomniac English Lit students.

When creating your key character, don’t over-develop it. An overdone, well-rounded, too-realistic character is a thoroughly irritating one, and belongs in the pages of chick lit alongside all of their sidekick friends who only exist to help them through a crisis and to massage their egos over a coma-inducing Blossom Hill strawpedo session.

Take a step back.

If your character is ‘a tough nut, has learned things the hard way, is cynical and tired of life’, then SHOW US THAT BIT.

Tell us that story! Otherwise, your story is merely a series of exchanges and scenarios where your emotionally crippled character makes excuses for their lack of commitment to doing anything remotely exciting for the reader in the narrative. If your character has a back story, then in literary fiction, you NEED to go back and start there. Literature-wise, that’s where things were exciting, where the character learned their limitations, met their demons for the first time, found out what it took to continue living and functioning. That’s where your character became strong. If they start out strong and over-developed emotionally in your narrative, they’ve already alienated most of the insular and shy consumers of deep and literary prose. Be prepared to go back there and share the introduction of those insecurities. Don’t throw them in as deus ex machina later on. A cavalier treatment of back-story just looks like you made it up on the spur of the moment to insert conflict or barriers, to delay progress. Your key character’s journey leads the reader – let them be surprised by what the key character learns about supporting characters and events on their journey, from the point of view of understanding their narrative host, their morals and issues, the effect of personal change.

(Don’t just beat your main character with the ugly stick and give them a hard time in life purely due to that. It’s a metaphor for prejudice. We get it already. The Ugly Duckling went there and did that when we were five years old).

That’s probably what is meant by ‘character-driven’ when that phrase is casually tossed around to describe literary fiction. The way folk say it implies that character is more important than plot. But ‘plot’ has to happen to ‘character’ for the character to go on any journey at all.

In literary fiction, it’s not just social setting and character that is a scope for metaphor. Every event, object, place and dialogue exchange is a potential for analogy. A man may love his car in the anthropomorphic sense, but only think of his wife in terms of chassis and bodywork. A collector of commemorative china plates may find that a broken or missing one constitutes a lost year of real-life memories. Characters apply meaning and emotional connection to strange things, in disproportion to the other people around them. They may gain or lose prejudices on their journey, but it won’t be the obvious things (to the rest of us) which affect their points of view.

All of the senses are involved in the depiction of alternative interpretation and implication in the story. I remember a particularly annoying school term dedicated to the interpretation of cloud and sky descriptions in poetry, followed by four more weeks on the subject of flowers… It’s a ****ing daffodil couldn’t he have just said it was ****ing yellow??!! AAAAAaaaaaarrrgh!! (This rant was delivered by my 14-year-old self, almost verbatim, to my considerably academic grandparents, who are no doubt all smirking down at me right now).

I remember being given Aesop’s Fables when I was very small, and first started out reading – flash fiction with morals. That was what set me up for my understanding of literary fiction in later life. You tell a story which is not just a story – the story also has a message, but the message has ‘multiple attachments’ – it contains unlimited implied alternative scenarios and characters where the same moral is evident, reaching out to a wider and wider audience in its retelling and subsequent analysis.

More than anything else, literary fiction does its work on the author, even before it reaches the audience. You may find yourself in characters you thought were only minor, may hear issues you are uncomfortable about voiced as your own. By its nature of having multiple layers of metaphor and parallel meanings, there is a great deal of potential for psychosis in literary fiction, and you may find hidden meanings when you read it much later on your own personal journey that were not yours at the time of writing.

But don’t worry. That’s completely normal to observe too. Writing literary fiction casts a shadow of yourself, one of those special shadows that can morph into many different things – career-wise, it may fly high into the stratosphere or crawl away under a rock, depending on how much others see of themselves and of their known worlds in your depiction, and whether it gives them new insights.

But as the author, the insights you wrote into your future self are more interesting when you read it later on – so don’t pay too much attention when grumpy students/reviewers later describe it as ‘utter wank’ 😉 x

The ‘Writing Process’ blog hop

Jill Pennington, the entrepreneur true-life author of Diary of a Single Parent Abroad asked me on FB the other day if I had a blog, and if so, would I mind following up her guest post on Tottie Limejuice’s blogspot as the next author to answer the same three questions as her?

51uNDQAk4yL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_

After telling her yes, I have maybe eight blog sites scattered around, and hadn’t done this blog hop thing yet on any of them, I said sure, why not. Pretty much everyone else I know has done one already, so I’m probably the last one ever. (Hooray, I hear you all cry).

Anyway, without further adon’ts, let’s get this mess over and done with, so we can all move on with our lives and never speak of this again… 🙂

Question one: What are you working on?

I’m working on a Toshiba M400 tablet laptop upgraded to Windows 7. I bought it off ebay. Highly recommended 🙂 Oh, the real answer? :/ More Zombie of Oz books for YA, more Lauren Boutain romance for the definitely adult, some sci-fi (including designing an open-source planetary setting that anyone can write about), some more parody/steampunk, and some more introspective stuff, which may or may never see the Kindle-fuelled light of day.

Question two: Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s there, in my head. If I don’t write it down as a creative outlet, it tends to manifest itself in other ways. Life would be unbearable with all those zombies turning up in reality. Me and Junior yell ‘Money should be falling from the sky!’ at least five times a day, because our nonsense creative conversation gets echoed back to us from the TV or by something occurring in real life. So writing down the nonsense is the safest place for it to go. Still waiting for the money to fall from the sky. That’s the real joke 🙂

Question three: How does your writing process work?

I switch off my ‘external monitoring’ and transcribe what I see and hear in my head. But I don’t need soundproofing or isolation to switch off my outside awareness. I like background noise, or TV, even doing laundry at the same time. Writing is just part of my normal life, and has been since I was 7 years old. I was doing it to kill time while waiting to make friends, did that, then later to kill time while waiting to have my first relationship, and I’m still waiting, so still basically killing time. There’s nothing really technical or methodical about it. I don’t need to ‘get into’ author mode, or put on a writing hat or anything. When I was younger I would have loved to grow up and be Barbara Cartland wafting around in a pink dressing-gown writing a book every day after lunch, now I don’t see being an author as having an idealised image attached to it. I can write for fun, and still be me, especially as all I’m doing for a living now is writing, since I’ve given up freelance IT support due to sports injuries that I’m awaiting surgery and rehabilitation for, so there’s nothing to hide and nothing to prove about it either.

I find I’m a more interesting person when I’m not talking about my writing, so I’m going to end there before I bore myself to sleep 🙂

I haven’t asked anyone if they want to be tagged, because they’ve all done the godforsaken deed already, so I’ll just recommend a couple of authors I know, for their indie inspiration:

Robert Rankin – also on Facebook

Sophie Neville – also on Facebook

You should check out what they’re up to, and how they market themselves and their work. Everyone’s different, but even though these two have a genuine hook they can exploit, they’re still working tirelessly to get out there in the real world and meet the public to promote their writing, rather than just banging away on social media.

Enough already – time for bed!

🙂 xxx

Another tutorial: Linking to multimedia in ebooks

Hello! Spring has sprung, the holidays have come, and hopefully we’re all outdoors getting some sunshine and healthy fresh air, not indoors with a TV movie marathon and a serious hand-blanket-stitching cosplay costume-making addiction. Just me on that one, I think…

Ok now, we all want to publish ebooks that stand out in the current market, and one thing you can do to perk them up is to add links to multimedia content:

Remember that you must own the content to share it (visual AND audio), and you must keep in mind that many of the more basic e-readers will not be running Flash player, or support video and audio content, and you don’t want their own enjoyment of reading the rest of the book interrupted with large blocks of non-functioning embedded content.

Check out the ‘Look Inside’ preview of this ebook that I formatted for a true-life memoir author, Sophie Neville: The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons.

She’d shown me some old home-movie footage her family had taken at the time the film was made, and I suggested editing it into short clips that could be linked to in the text inside the book, as well as create a book trailer from it.

You’ll see hyperlinks under the first two photographs on the title pages of her ebook, linking to footage uploaded onto the author’s Youtube channel. (I also edited the footage for her, and used music soundtracks available from the copyright-free libraries). I edited the ebook’s description on Amazon to include the line “contains links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage for readers with browser-enabled tablets” – so that customers would be aware of how this worked.

If you own one of these non-browser, non-Flash Kindles or e-readers, you can download the reader app to your PC or other internet device to read and view books with multimedia content, where the links will work on your PC or device with an internet connection and fully-functioning browser.

On the iPad or iPhone, for example, when you tap on the video hyperlink in this ebook, the video appears full-screen, ready to watch. When it has finished, you just tap on the Youtube prompt ‘Done’ – it closes automatically and you’re back on your page in the Kindle book. Neat stuff.

Here’s how to format and publish a standard text or illustrated ebook – click here.

Start with your content – you have to own it, as will become clear shortly, and also have permission of anyone (or their property, or music) who appears in your footage, whether it’s made using stills or video. Make sure you include a written acknowledgement of their contribution in your ‘Thank You’ list at the end of your book, for granting you permission.

Firstly, set up a Youtube channel in your author name, and upload your edited content.

In your video’s description on the Youtube edits page while uploading, include the words ‘(Book title) Copyright (your name) (year) Thanks to (names of contributors in this video). All permissions obtained.’

Copy the shortlink to share the video you want to link from the ‘Share’ tab under the video on Youtube, e.g. http://youtu.be/chXkQ8m8tKM Make sure you only have the link to your video copied. Don’t copy any longer links from the address bar, which may contain ‘play all’ loops or playlists, which prompt the link to include the rest of your videos, or ones with the same title or search terms in the content that plays when the link is clicked on. If you can only copy the link from your browser’s address bar, make sure that if it contains the symbol ‘&’ you first select the ‘&’ and anything that appears after the ‘&’ symbol, and delete that part, before copying the first part of the link only. Also delete the ‘s’ from ‘https’ at the beginning of the link – otherwise your link is set to ‘private browsing’ and will only work if the reader is also signed in to Youtube.

If your ebook is illustrated, you can do the same as I did for this particular author, and put links under appropriate illustrations. This means that folk with regular e-readers still get something nice to look at, and the video is just enhancement for readers with fully-functioning browsers. Don’t link the video to the illustration itself – this will mess with the ‘zoom image’ tap function on touchscreen tablets, and no-one will know it is there! It’s best for clarity to type the line ‘Click here for video’ or something similar as I have done, and hyperlink the sentence.

Highlight the phrase you want to link on your document in Word/OpenOffice etc, click on the ‘Insert’ tab, select ‘Hyperlink’, select ‘on the web’ in the left-hand sidebar of the control box that pops up, and paste your video’s link into the box saying ‘web address’, then ‘Apply’ and ‘Done/OK’.

Once you’ve added your video hyperlinks, whether they’re book trailers, vlogs, author interviews with yourself, you dressed up as one of your characters acting out a scene etc, finish formatting your ebook document, and upload and submit it for publishing as described in the Formatting Ebooks tutorial.

Your book will appear in the Kindle store. Now, at some point, you will receive an email from KDP stating that your book ‘contains content freely available on the web’ and to ‘verify that you are the owner’ of this material, otherwise your book will be removed and the rest of your author account as well. You must reply immediately, as they only give you a few days’ notice to answer. All you need do is send a polite and prompt reply confirming that it is your own footage on your own Youtube channel (see name on your Youtube channel) and has been uploaded for the purpose of marketing your book (see book title and author name in your video descriptions). The same goes for images if queried, or your own written blog posts, that you might have replicated in your published books. Also follow any prompts they have given you in their email to confirm ownership by re-submitting the book, by opening the edit menu of your book on your KDP dashboard, re-selecting ‘All territories’ on the ‘Rights & Royalties’ page, and re-submitting your book for publishing. They will later reply to your reply, confirming acknowledgement of your right to publish the content. These emails are not automated, and your content and written verification will be checked by actual people.

For the above reason, make sure that any video content you have created to link to in your ebook does not contain anything illegal, defamatory, plagiarist, obscene, or that could be interpreted as an actual declaration of war in our Universe or the next.

Also, be aware that browsers with some child-safety ‘nanny’ programs running to block adult content may be set up by readers with families on shared computers (to whom your own book and content might be perfectly safe and suitable, as is the one I formatted), but the fact that your book contains Youtube links will mean it does not appear on their home computers in online searches. This is because Youtube and other video sites overall contain content blocked by these programs, and there’s nothing you can do to get around parenting shields that detect and block Youtube and video links (I’d be very concerned if there was a way around it). If the parents have alternative access on other computers and tablets without these parenting shields, they will be able to find your book without any problems. Just because your book doesn’t appear on or is blocked on one family’s computer doesn’t mean it will be blocked on all of them. (One of my author clients got quite excitable when she thought her extremely tame book had been ‘banned’ after trying to look it up at a friend’s house and found it was blocked by their online family filter).

So it can be done, and managed effectively, and if it all ties together nicely it makes a really good transmedia reading experience for the customer – you only have to see what the Amazon reviewers have said about the video content in the book I formatted for Sophie Neville (although she has allowed one reviewer to give her ALL of the credit for technical wizardry, LOL!)

…If you are formatting a paperback version later on, change your hyperlinks to the original shortlinks as above. That way readers can find your video content by typing in the address itself, as there’s nowhere to click on paper yet 🙂

To learn how to format and publish a paperback or hardcover, click here.

Have fun, and good luck. And remember to get out more 😉 xxx

…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

Only You – guest post by Dan Holloway

Happy New Year!

If your New Year’s Resolution is to self-publish for the first time, and you’re looking for a place to start – whether it’s writing your first ever piece or getting to grips with formatting the files and uploading them, there’s lots of advice out there. (There’s lots of advice in here!)

One of the most experienced indies around is Dan Holloway, who I first met when I went to witness the 100th International Literary Death Match live in London (see Dan’s author profile below). So when he announced the release of his new title last month Self-Publish With Integrity, I invited him to write a guest post for all the writers out there facing the New Year with that same ambition – to quit the gatekeeper waiting game, and get their work out into the spotlight of the world.

Since he founded the Year Zero Writers collective in January 2009, Dan Holloway has been a leading figure in the self-publishing community. Winner of the international spoken word phenomenon Literary Death Match whilst the only self-published author competing; writing the guidebook for the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Open Up to Indies campaign; writing about the very best of self-publishing across the internet including contributing regularly to the Guardian Books Blog, Dan has built a reputation for refusing to compromise his artistic principles for short term commercial success. (Amazon author profile)

So I’m very proud to welcome Mr Dan Holloway – links to find his book and his blog are at the bottom of the post…

L xxx 🙂

'Self-Publish With Integrity' by Dan Holloway

Only You

Spend a little time looking through advice for self-published writers and you will soon find yourself inundated by advice on what can best, if loosely, be labelled branding. How do I make myself discoverable? How do I appeal to the right readers? How will people respond to my cover? Am I saying the right things on social media? Does my writing hit all the points on the genre’s expectation list?

With respect (and in some cases with absolutely no respect at all), unless you are writing purely and simply to try and earn some kind of a crust, because having one day job isn’t enough you’d like two thank you (and if you’re only in it for the money 1. why would you be reading something I’ve written? and 2. following advice of people who made money but probably didn’t set out only to do that isn’t going to help), all of this is, erm, misplaced.

Most people who write are passionate. If not about “writing” per se, then about something – exploring the lives and worlds of a set of characters who’ve wormed their way into your head, connecting with people who share a fascination with a particularly kooky slant you have on the world, just reaching out to someone to let them know they’re not alone. Whatever it is they’re passionate about, all the best writers I know have that one thing in common – passion.

That right there, that passion, is your “brand.” It’s what makes you uniquely qualified to write the stories you write, and it’s what gives your stories their intangible magic, their ability to reach out and hook anyone who shares your passion.

Like pretty much any educational curriculum, most self-publishing advice starts out as providing a handy toolkit to help you bring your individuality to the world in a way that accentuates it, showcases it to its very best – and ends up very quickly becoming a sausage factory designed to squeeze that individuality from you in order to conform to some standardised notion of what is “the right way” that has been dictated by a group of opinion formers and discourse makers who represent the collective wisdom of every group that has stood on the side of every oppression in history.

If your goal is to hone yourself until every facet of what you do matches that expectation set, then why on earth would you self-publish? Why would you embark upon a course that has a glorious, grubby ability to free you from the shackles of being told how a story has to develop, how many words a book should have, what kind of cover “readers” will like, what kind of melange of genres and points of view constitute acceptable experimentation?

As a self-publisher, don’t ever forget that the true freedom self-publishing gives you is the freedom to be you. The freedom to have a vision, to believe in that vision and realise it and then bring it to the world.

Yes, you might alienate some people by writing what you have to write. You might alienate a LOT of people in fact. But you will make those who share your passion love the worlds you have made. Too much advice is about not offending. Too little is about stirring passion, about being true to your vision.

There are two fundamental problems with the “don’t cause offence” school of writing. The first is that it really doesn’t sell books. Not in the long term. Yes, by producing a cover that perfectly matches the expectations of a genre, you might well encourage readers in that genre to buy your book. But in the long term, one of two things will happen – either they’ll read it and never read another one because you just couldn’t keep the “you” part of your writing hidden and those readers don’t want “you”, or you will tailor a whole series of books so perfectly to match expectations that they remove every last shred of “you” from every single part. And then you will wake up one day and look at what you’ve “achieved” and the “enjoyment” it’s given you and shake your head in horror.

The second problem is that what’s inoffensive to one person isn’t universally inoffensive. And this is a fundamental problem for anyone who’s any kind of an outsider. The majority’s manila is assumed to be something that couldn’t possibly offend anyone. Take easy listening music. No one could be offended by it, right? That’s the point. Well, most people in the street will, indeed, react with suitable blandness (a further problem with this school of thought – you don’t want your readers to find your work agreeable – do you? Really? Don’t you want them to be so damn excited by your books they queue from the early hours to get their hands on your new short story and then go out and scream at all their friends that they *must* buy it? Do you really think anyone ever jumped up and called their best friend and said “OMG, you’ll never guess what I just discovered, it’s this incredible colour called beige that you just have to paint your whole house right now”?). But your friend whose basement is stuffed with bootleg punk tapes? Will they really say “mmm, not my thing but harmless enough?”

The point is this – if you’re an outsider, then your outsider passions are not your weakness but your strength. It might be a small group that shares them, but those who do share them will do so with an equal passion. If you standardise your work so as not to offend, they are exactly the people you will alienate – and for the sake of not actually winning any die hard fans from anywhere else.

So, the most fundamental thing for any self-publisher to remember is to be yourself. Know what it is you’re passionate about and be proud of it. Don’t change yourself to find readers who wouldn’t like who you really are anyway – you wouldn’t do it to find friends, so don’t do it to find readers. Be yourself, be proud of yourself, and let your passion be the first, second and last thing that flows onto the page. And then you’ll find a set of readers who really love what you do.

Self-publish With Integrity, my guide to steering your way through the long self-publishing journey and staying true to your creative goals, is now available for Kindle in the UK:
My bestselling thriller The Company of Fellows is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Company-Fellows-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B004PLMHYC
All kind of things including free downloads are on my website: http://danholloway.wordpress.com – it also has links to all my other books, and links to articles and shows.

Dan Holloway

Niche marketing – part 2…

Following yesterday’s post Niche marketing – the psychology behind success I’ll give you an example from my back catalogue, where I really was writing for a perceived ‘niche market’ as I saw it.

When designing your perfect reader, you have to realise that there is an element of caricature in the concept. Like for romance writers, their perfect reader might be the single city girl commuting, with her dog-eared, much-loved paperback copy of their book (not ebook, so that everyone can see what she’s reading) in permanent residence at the bottom of her Chloé.

Have you noticed that bags and shoes aren’t referred to as bags and shoes in chick lit anymore? It’s all label this and designer that. Shopping-channel porn. Unfortunately, it also tends to date books quickly, due to fashion’s fickle nature – you’ll see what I mean in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho novel, where Patrick launches into a loving and verbose description of the contents of his man-tastic living room.

Christian Bale in American Psycho

As such, lurid technology envy should probably also be avoided, now everyone and their two-year-old owns an iPad. As for cars, they go out of style faster than shoes – quite literally…

Digression alert! What I was saying, is that your planned ‘niche market’ is ‘a character’ as much as the people in your novel are also characters. So for the traditional romance/chick lit author, her ideal reader is the city girl commuting on the train, enjoying her favourite books en route, and usually sneaking them out under the desk and in her lunch hour too. She probably gets wobbly on a gin and tonic, and leaves parties early to curl up in her PJs and watch Bridget Jones for the umpteenth time rather than embarrassing herself instead. She’d never ask a guy out because she’s too shy, but secretly would like to dance on a table just once in her life. Abroad. Where nobody knows who she is.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones

That’s a caricature. It’s a perception of a potentially real person or reader, but doesn’t define or specify a completely real person or reader.

The romance author only needs to write their own book with his/her particular reader in mind. She/he doesn’t need to try and target ‘everyone’ and include members of the House of Lords, prisoners on Death Row, Guatemala, Greenpeace activists, people who work on whaling ships, and the creepy guy that never talks but licks the library windows. Even though they can all read as well, most likely. What I’m saying is, don’t announce that your book is for ‘everyone’ – try being specific, and see how your story, its cover, and the way you promote it stands up to your concept of who in the worldwide ‘market’ you are considering would appreciate this sort of book.

Here’s my own example – chick lit/crime, ‘self-help’ fiction, Death & The City:

DATC hd cover

Other editions and covers available – see ‘eBooks’. Also in paperback print and hardcover.

Now I had only one reader in mind at first: Me.

But as I wrote, I realised there was an existing concept of women out there who might also enjoy it.

The ones who hadn’t always managed to pick the right guy – or any guy. The ones who clung to the rails but spent most of the time off them, while they struggled with growing up, daily life, work and peer pressure.

Lindsay Lohan Daily Mail UK September 2013

The ones who saw everyone else’s mistakes, but still couldn’t make their own life work out perfectly…

Angelina - Girl, Interrupted

Somewhere inside them is always a seed of strength, whether it’s that they know better, they know what’s best for them deep down but other people always seem to get it wrong, or that they have already been through the ‘worst case scenarios’ on a number of occasions, and have come out the other side…

Britney at MTV Awards

They’re a bit feisty on the surface, and never seem to take any crap, and are occasionally better survivors single than in a relationship – but that’s only because they’re protecting themselves, their sanity and their children first…

britney-spears

They don’t ‘need a man’ but the right one will find them – eventually.

Katie Price 'Jordan'

And you know that the minute she picks up the ball and runs with it, she’ll kick everyone’s ass…

Angelina Jolie - Lara Croft

…So that’s my caricature of a potential ‘niche market’ audience. It sounds quite specific. But when you read into it, and expand on it, you’ll find that some of the characteristics you’ve given your ‘specific reader’ speak to a much wider audience than you first realised. Lots of people will identify with elements of it.

But you don’t advertise that fact.

You stick to communicating your idea of ‘one perfect reader’ who will get the most from your work, take the best message it contains on board, feel it speaks to the best version of themselves, and leads them to further insights of their own.

Sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? But niche marketing is all about selling idealism, that others will then want to be a part of. How or what you write is up to you, whether your intentions are good and it comes from the heart, or you only want to find the fastest route to making money. Either way, you still then have to promote it, whether it’s to a publisher or directly to the public – and you need to say who you are writing for, not just why.

It’s funny. I’ve never put together an actual pinboard of my ideal reader as above, and here it is. I carried the concept of my ‘reader’ and the various representations of that reader around in my head. But looking at them, and looking at my various covers, I think this is the best one so far:

Death & The City - Heavy Duty Edition hardcover

Cover for the Smashwords/Kobo/Sony/Diesel Ebooks/iTunes Bookstore version and Lulu hardback

The pink is more appropriate – but I still think it’s not quite there yet. I’ll need to make a bigger ‘niche marketing’ pinboard and see where that leads me…

Make your ‘ideal reader pinboard’ – it might surprise you 🙂

L xxx

Niche marketing – the psychology behind success

Yesterday, I caught a few minutes of Real Housewives of Vancouver, where business-minded Mom ‘Ronnie’ was in a design planning meeting, regarding her idea for a new wine brand that she proposed to call ‘Rehab’.

The ad agency were asking all the right questions, which Ronnie really didn’t seem to understand. Who was the product aimed at? What was the story behind it? What image or personality did it have? What occasion would it be suited to?

Ronnie, like many first-time writers I’ve spoken to, didn’t want to tie herself down to a ‘niche market’. She wanted an instant, across-the-board success. “It’s for everyone” she said. “People drinking at home, or during the day, or getting ready to go out…”

Nothing starts out aimed at ‘everyone’ unless it’s toilet paper.

389331_10151499447745427_1342178212_n

No comment… 🙂

The problem isn’t the concept of ‘niche marketing’. The problem is the widely-held misconception of how niche marketing works. The intent and purpose of ‘niche marketing’.

The misconception is that you ‘find your niche market’ and only target them as your consumers. This is only correct if your product has age restrictions, usually enforced by law.

Let’s say you are a science fiction author who wants to break into the crossover sci-fi romance market. You have penned the equivalent of Star Wars. You immediately want to reach “everyone” as Ronnie stated.

You don’t start with everyone. You start with the design concept for your one perfect reader in the whole world. Just one.

And then you make everyone else in the world want to be that reader.

Your one perfect reader is the hottest guy (or girl) on the science campus. They wear designer loafers bought on eBay and own an epic collection of zombie t-shirts from online artists. They’ve met Stephen Hawking. They drink cherry brandy and Coke because it tastes awesome. They prefer DeviantArt to Pinterest, listen to Calvin Harris, and their ideal party weekend would be a trip to Vegas to see Britney Spears live in residence. They own at least one of the original Star Wars branded pieces of merchandise. You never see them play or hear them bragging, but you just know they’d thrash you at pool or poker. They’re an expert on the moon of Enceladus, and will tell you all about it while making you the best vegan Pad Thai noodles that you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Does that reader sound appealing to a sci-fi author? Damn right it does. And probably to some other potential readers as well. Who are Googling Pad Thai recipes as we speak.

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Pad Thai

Here’s another example. Cristal champagne. Originally commissioned for Russian royalty in the 1800s, with a bottle designed to defy assassination attempts, it wasn’t available to the public until 1945. It was so exclusive and its potential market so tiny, that to drink it became a badge of honour. And by the turn of the 21st century it was starting to be sloshed over mixing decks by high-profile DJs and poured all over hip-hop girls in hot tubs by rap musicians. Its niche market went from ‘virtually no-one’ to ‘virtually everyone’.

Tupac Shakur ‘Thug Passion’ – also the name of his Cristal/Alize cocktail

But that took 60 years, I hear you wail!

It doesn’t always take that long. If the design for your perfect reader is enviable enough that everyone wants to become that reader, then reading your book – like drinking that wine – will by proxy make them that reader. In their minds, at least.

With alcohol, very few people want to see themselves as the lonely idle bastard sitting at home in a string vest and one shoe on, watching Homes Under the Hammer while their cat slowly expires of mange and unpaid bills drop onto the mat. That’s someone who primarily (frequently) wants and needs toilet paper. That’s ‘everyone’.

They want to see themselves at the front row on the Strip surrounded by Cristal and close friends who never throw up on them screaming themselves hoarse watching Britney Spears live, while she announces mid-performance that there’s a really hot guy right in front of her and she likes his zombie t-shirt. In fact, she’d like him to take it off so she can wear it home.

Britney Spears live, Las Vegas, in a jazz club stylee… niiiiice…  🙂

See? The niche market is not your enemy. It’s your consumer’s aspiration and future adventures. You’re just there to hold the door open a tiny chink, and allow everyone else a brief glimpse of where they could be.

The Dos Equis beer commercials spell it out for you 😉