Thursday, 25 September 2014

Getting Reviews for your E-Book

     Getting Reviews  

     Indy writers very much like myself need (hugely) positive reviews since firstly, with no major publishing house behind us we receive so little exposure and secondly, (according to Amazon) the number we receive is indirectly connected with book sales. So the more 4 and 5 star reviews that our books get the more likely it is that a glance at our book's page on Amazon or an advertisement on Facebook or Twitter will result in either an actual sale or at least the download of a free sample.         
     Sounds easy eh? Well, not quite since reviews are a little bit like whales around Japan - quite hard to come by. Once the writer has begged and hounded his close friends and immediate family into reviewing their book they then have to look elsewhere. At this juncture in the literary desert the writer has two options: 1. Hope/pray that some of the people that have already downloaded the book via Amazon etc a) actually read it and b) review it positively enough (not always a guarantee) and 2) Send out free copies to the hordes of amateur reviewers that frequent the halls of the internet like bats in a cave. Of these two the latter is perhaps the easier and more straight forward, though it depends on your personal situation and the exposure that you have managed to generate for your book.

     The Quest

     When I first started sending off Jack Strong and the Red Giant to this veritable army of reviewers I thought that I'd hit the jackpot and that pretty soon I would have 20+ 4.5/5 star reviews for my book, thus triggering a relative deluge in sales that would make me feel supremely confident both about myself as a writer and my project. How wrong I was. At the time of writing this blog I think that I have sent off in excess of 50 review requests to an array of reviewers, each one carefully chosen for their love of sci-fi/YA books. To date I have received only 2 reviews with a further 2 outstanding (and I'm not convinced that these will ever materialise), with the rest either not replying to my e mails or else stating that, upon reading my summary, that it didn't interest them and that therefore they would not be reading my book (hardly surprising since most amateur reviewers are inundated with requests, so if they don't fancy a book then it makes sense for them to turn it down).

     Minefield

     But it doesn't matter, because the glass is half-full right? Well, sort of. Of the two reviews that I have already alluded to one was interstellar great, whilst the other one was down in the gutter, pig-feed bad. Let's start with the more positive of the two: Gadget Girl Reviews. The best thing about this review was that not only did she rave about my book, but she also bought into the characters and the storyline that I was telling and she quite literally begged to be allowed to review the sequel (I'm still waiting to edit it), so the fact that she gave it 5 stars was immaterial - she loved it and that was all that mattered to me and it gave me CONFIDENCE both as a writer and in the whole Jack Strong universe that I'm trying to create. Ultimately, this is the kind of review that all writers should be chasing: it's free, honest, and independent, and it's dripping with positivity. 
     Okay, now let's get to the bad. When I first sent off my free copy to the onlinebookclub.org I should have been wary. On their website it does state that if you pay them (there are several review and advertisement packages ranging from $15-$100) then it will "ensure" that a reviewer gets to it promptly and that it will be properly displayed upon their website once the review is finished. Since I opted for the free package I should have been alert to the danger, and sure enough within a few days my 1/4 review slid into my inbox, dampening the enthusiasm that - on account of rising sales - had been building all summer. Now I'm not going to sit here and rant and call them all sorts of bad names and trash their reputation etc. If I'd have paid $X would I have gotten a better review? Perhaps. Perhaps not (Though I can't see myself getting a bad review if I'd have paid $100). But at the end of the day it was their opinion (however uninformed: the reviewer didn't believe it possible that my main character, Jack Strong would know what the Earth looked like from space!) and no matter how much I may disagree with it I have to accept that and move on. Luckily for me, however, about a week later the aforementioned Gadget Girl review pinged and raved its way into my inbox, thus giving me a bit more confidence, a tad more momentum.


     Amazon Sales

     It goes without saying that the onlinebookclub review resulted in zero sales, but what about the gadget girl review? Though she tweeted and posted the review on Amazon and on her blog there was I'm sorry to say no immediate bounce in sales. So are we therefore to deduce that reviews are worthless (at least when it comes to actual sales)? Well, first of all I think it depends upon the reach of the reviewer in question and whether their opinion counts for something with the readers who follow them. If there are only twenty or so people following them (I am not aware of how many people follow Gadget Girl) then it is more likely in my opinion, that sales will be negligible at least in the short term. In the long term however, the weather forecast is a little more rosy, at least so long as the review has been posted on Amazon. This is because Amazon (well their all-seeing computers at any rate), recommend a variety of books based upon their buying habits, to people all around the world (My own book has been recommended to me on three occasions). It stands to reason that if someone follows the link to your book, then a few good or even great reviews may have an impact upon whether or not they eventually buy it. Now since I've been averaging about 2 downloads a week for the last couple of months or so I'm more than tempted to believe that reviews such as the one by Gadget Girl are having a lasting, durable impact upon my book's sales. It's not a great amount of course, but it is something to be proud of and draw confidence from, and hopefully, together with the influence of this blog (300+ reads so far and growing) this rate will either remain steady, or if I'm really lucky, start to increase.



     Advice for writers

     Though getting reviews can be an arduous and frustrating business, they are important, not least because a positive review from a stranger (and this is the review that as writers we need to crave and target the most) can have a lasting and considerable impact upon both our writing careers and upon future book sales (just don't expect the dam to burst). Ultimately, as indy writers we have to see ONE SALE as being a success. I will take ten sales over one hundred downloads any day. Why? Because if someone pays for a book then it is almost certain that at some point in the near future they will settle down to read it, but if it's free then it's not so certain. Over the last couple of months I have downloaded approximately five free e-books and I've read none of them, but the one book that I actually paid for (£0.77) I read within a couple of weeks. Whenever I'm unsure about something like this I find that thinking what I'd do as a reader helps guide me as a writer.
     As for any negative reviews that you may happen to get (and whatever you do never respond to them as I've seen other authors unwisely do) you have to process them accordingly and not let them dampen your spirits for your project or even for writing in general. This is especially true, as was the case with my bad review, when the criticism is NOT CONSTRUCTIVE or even hostile. If it's like this then I'd just advise you to wash it from your mind like a bad stain on a pair of pants: you don't need negativity like that weighing you down. Besides, it maybe a cliché but at the end of the day it is all SUBJECTIVE: people have different literary tastes and what someone admires another detests and vice versa.

     The Future

     Whether the reviews are good, bad, or merely indifferent, the most important thing is to keep writing and reading and keep believing in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. Anything less and you are not being true to yourself as a writer. 


    If you would like to read more of my work please check out my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space.




    

Friday, 19 September 2014

Constructive Criticism

     What is constructive criticism?  

     Put simply, constructive criticism is when somebody offers both positive and negative comments about a person's work (story, poem, play or otherwise), though the ratio of each of these can often differ depending on the people involved. Ideally, the idea behind constructive criticism is to provide both encouragement for the writer, as well as offering commentary on some areas where the reviewer feels that the work can be improved upon. To understand the process better I have sub-divided constructive criticism into two distinct parts: Giving and Receiving.

     Giving

     If there's one thing that I've learnt over the last 20 years of my writing life it's that it is all-too easy for people to criticise, to debunk, and to give scorn when they come across a piece of literature that they see no value in. Now, I'm not going to slam these people (I have been one of them myself sometimes) or say that their opinions are incorrect, because ultimately they all have their opinions and they are quite rightly entitled to them. However, it is my opinion that ALL writers serve a higher power, a greater being entirely, and it's not God, or the church, or your favourite football team or political party - it's LITERATURE; and whenever someone writes a book, or a poem for example this neo-21st century deity expands and grows brighter, not unlike a light bulb, expanding its lifespan just a little bit more, ensuring that more children and adults learn to read and enjoy books, thus combating dogma and illiteracy, and at the same time promoting imagination, creativity, and humanism.
      However, if someone's work is rejected out of hand then the light bulb dims slightly, especially if the writer concerned loses all confidence and hope, so it is imperative that the reviewer (be they a friend or even a professional critic) finds and focuses on the few gold nuggets of quality within the piece, before passing these onto the writer, thus giving them the encouragement to continue with both their current and future projects. You would never slam a poem or a story written by a child so why change when they are adults? Sure, they are probably not a Dickens or a Shakespeare (who is today?), but with the right dose of constructive criticism they might yet get somewhere close to it if they are given some creative air to breathe.
   

     Receiving

     Receiving criticism is one of the hardest things to take for a writer, because quite obviously we all want to be perfect, and write great stories that everybody will read, love, and adore. But here's the thing: we're not; nobody is: not Stephen King, J.K Rowling, or Salman Rushdie. They've all made mistakes in their writing and will continue to do so. Why? Because they're human, and like Alexander Pope said  "To be human is too err." What the modern writer has to be willing to do - big whales and little sticklebacks alike - is take constructive advice, because as READERS all their points are valid, and they are giving voice to what other readers may perhaps be thinking. If you dig your heels in and stick rigidly to your own guns then all you'll end up doing is creating and maintaining your own literary island, cut-off from the rest of the world (and by implication your readers), destined to repeat the self-same mistakes over and over again, never progressing, the dream of publishing forever lodged just beyond the horizon. Besides, if someone has taken the time to suggest ways for you to improve, instead of merely trashing your book or worse not offering comment altogether, then you should listen to them because they are interested enough in your work to a) read it and b) think of some ways to make it more readable and/or publishable.
     When I wrote the first few chapters of my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, the few people who I showed it to could have panned it, but they didn't, they focused on what was good and noteworthy and praised it, whilst simultaneously pointing out what they thought could be improved upon. It was was hard to take at first, but ultimately I focused on the positive things they said, took confidence from them, and then paid greater heed to my project's shortcomings. If it wasn't for their constructive criticism I doubt that my novel would've been as successful as it has.

     Final Word

     Of course every now and again someone (especially with so many anonymous online reviewers about) will trash your book and say that it is the literary equivalent of toilet paper and that you have no talent whatsoever, and that by implication you should just give up and leave it to your betters. Ignore these people and what they say completely. I stridently believe that there are positive things to be found in everything that's written, whether they are in the story, the characters, or the language etc. If the person lambasting your work doesn't or won't see that then you should take everything they say and chuck it in the bin. Similarly if it is YOU that's dishing out the literary lashings take a minute to reflect on what you are saying and how the person at the end of it all might feel because it might just be that some part of what you say is valid, but surrounded by all that hostility and negativity it will very likely end up in the bin with the rest of your ill-judged comments. Ultimately, as writers we have to improve whether we are international best sellers or struggling indy authors on Amazon, and constructive criticism allows us to grow and develop, and to see our work somewhat objectively through the eyes of the reader.


My debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space is available now on Amazon. You can buy it/read an excerpt here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M22USRE



Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Chapters 1-3 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Prologue

The boy pulled the bundle of furs close as the last of his fire rocks went out.
He couldn’t stop shivering. It was getting colder and colder every day now.
Outside he could hear the Nagwhals calling, their shrill whine bouncing off the ice falls, reaching deep into the cave.
He was so hungry. He hadn't eaten in days.
Beneath the pile of rotten fur he held onto his brother, now stiff with cold.
Down the tunnel he heard a long, piercing shriek and a loud splash. Moments later a big silver head followed by a long silver body squeezed itself out of the darkness and slid towards him, its huge, jagged teeth snapping at his rags.
A yell and a lunge and it was all over.
He let go of his brother as the Nagwhal tugged his stiff body back down the dark tunnel.
He was alone now - the last boy alive on a long dead planet.
The boy shivered, and waited for the Nagwhal to come again.


Chapter 1: School’s Out

Jack slammed the front door shut and quickly ran up the stairs. He went straight into the bathroom, locked the door, and looked into the small mirror by the sink.
It was worse than he feared.
There were swishes and squiggles of red, black, blue, green, and orange marker pen all over his face.
He panicked.
Not wanting to be seen like this by his mum and dad he turned on the taps and frantically began to scrub his face with a large, yellow sponge. It took almost twenty minutes of feverish scrubbing to remove every last mark.
After he finished dabbing himself with a towel, he walked across the landing, entered his small, sparsely decorated bedroom, and slouched down upon the bed.
He had lost another pen fight.
When it was other children fighting though, they didn’t seem to come away as badly as he did. It was supposed to be one against one, yet as soon as he said he wanted to fight there were five or six boys and girls holding him down, scribbling and scrawling all over his face. He kept shouting at them to stop, but they just laughed and giggled, their pens thrusting and jabbing.
Jack looked into the mirror one last time. Just for a moment he half-hoped that his birthmark had been washed away too, but it was still there: stretching all the way from his forehead to his chin like a big red smudge of tomato ketchup. Wiping his blue eyes dry, he put on his glasses, neatened his short brown hair, checked his face again for pen marks and left his bedroom.

The smell of food was now emanating from the kitchen and wafting up the steep flight of stairs.
Eager to see what was for dinner, he quickly rushed down the stairs, almost tripping over on the way and ran, much to the consternation of his Mum, through the living room into the kitchen.
He was so hungry.
His mind raced with the many possibilities: hamburgers, roast chicken, pepperoni pizza, sausages - anything so long as it was delicious, and what was more - lots of it!
His heart sank.
Upon the kitchen table was a pan of burnt pork chops, along with some equally burnt stringy onions as well as what looked like a big dish of rather lumpy mashed potatoes and a pile of heavily-buttered white bread. His dreams of coming home to a plate of crisp, chunky chips and a moist, oven-cooked pizza, or else a plate of yellow, creamy curry had vanished yet again. Why couldn't he get something better for a change?
But he was hungry, and so he sat down across from his mum and dad and said nothing. He then grabbed a knife and fork from a small pile on the table and began to eat. Though as the gravy lacked salt and the mashed potatoes well everything, his dinner mainly consisted of making some rather messy pork chop sandwiches. This was of course after he had spooned-off the black onions, given the pork chops a good helping of brown sauce, and pulled off some little bits of mold from the bread.
A few minutes later and it was time for dessert.
His mum, cheeks reddening, put on some ragged, grey oven gloves and brought out a hot, steaming dish of …gooseberry crumble!
He couldn’t believe it.
Not gooseberry crumble again!
Jack hated gooseberry crumble. As far as he was concerned, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing on Earth, being nothing better than sour, green, slimy goo.
“Why can’t we have something else for a change?” he suddenly shouted out loud, anger rising in his chest. “I hate gooseberry crumble. It’s horrible!”
“Nonsense Jack,” replied his mum, in a soft, kind voice. “It’s good for you. It helps you grow into a big, strong lad.”
“No, it’s not!” he spat, getting angrier “I hate it, why can’t we have something different for a change?”
“Now Jack,” interrupted his dad in a stern voice “Be nice to your mum, she’s been cooking your dinner for a long time.”
“I don’t care! I’m sick of it. All we ever eat is gooseberry and rhubarb crumble. Why can’t we have some ice cream for a change?”
“It’s healthy,” his mum continued. “Besides we’ve loads of gooseberry bushes in the back garden. We can’t let them go to waste. You don’t know how lucky you are. People would love to have what we have!”
Jack made a face, grunted again, but thought better about answering back.
Besides, he was still hungry and there was a red hot jug of steaming yellow custard on the table. Still not wanting to eat the gooseberry though, he got hold of a large, wooden serving spoon and attempted to scoop off the top of the crumble from the green goo underneath.
Immediately his dad stopped him.
“Jack, what have we told you about taking all the crumble?” Leave some for us.”
“But daaaaaaad!” he whined.
“But nothing,” he said, his brown eyes almost poking through his glasses “Stop being selfish, and think about other people for a change.”
And that was the end of that. Sulking, Jack dejectedly put a small dollop of gooseberry crumble in a chipped dessert bowl, followed by a couple of large spoon-fulls of hot custard.
He ate it in silence, gulping it down, mouthful after mouthful. The quicker the better he thought. In order to avoid tasting it, he tried to surround as much of the disgusting gooseberry as possible with either the custard or the crumble. This didn’t work very well however and every now and again a big, slimy wedge of gooseberry goo would get stuck at the back of his throat or else at the top of his mouth, causing him to wince and grimace.
Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him. “Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today.” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break. I want to watch some TV.”
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
“Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
“What did you say?” barked his dad.
“Nothing.”
Jack made his way to the kitchen sink and gripped the washing-up bottle tightly, squeezing out a green jet of washing-up liquid into the sink. He then turned on the hot water, and watched as a mountain of frothy, white bubbles arose like an island from the foaming sea.
“Jack,” his dad said again, “Don’t use too much washing-up liquid. It all costs money. You only need to use a little.”
“I knooooooooooow!” he bellowed back sarcastically.
Still his dad continued. “Well then, make sure you wash them properly this time. Last time you didn’t do a good job, and your mum had to wash them all again.”
With that they both left for the living room.
Still annoyed, Jack began to wash-up, flinging the cups, plates, pans, and cutlery into the sea of bubbles. Not wanting to think about the pen fight again he did the wiping and scrubbing as quickly as he could. He didn’t care about any correct order or way of doing things; he just wanted to get it all done, and to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. He just flung them in the drainer one by one, stacking them haphazardly on top of each other until eventually a Mount Everest of pots, plates and pans arose from out of the drainer at least a foot high.
As soon as he finished, he burst into the small living room, eager to watch some TV, where a man in a grey suit was talking on the news about the latest tourists to blast-off into space.
He was just about to plonk himself on the sofa when a sound like thunder came from the kitchen.
Craaaaaaaasssshhhhhhh!
Everybody sat up and turned around.
“JACK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” his mum and dad bellowed at once.
They all rushed into the kitchen like a herd of stampeding wildebeest. All over the sticky, yellow, lino floor were an assortment of broken cups and plates as well as several pans and a great many knives and forks.
“Oh, Jaaaaaack!” his mum whined, “How are we going to replace all these? We haven’t got the money.”
Even he for once was lost for words.
“B-b-b-but I didn’t mean it!” he finally stammered, embarrassed, feeling sorry both for himself and for them.
“Didn’t mean it?” His mum bellowed back, “I’ve told you before about not rushing the washing-up and stacking them properly. Why can’t you listen, you STUPID boy?”
“I’M NOT STUPID!” He yelled back, the anger now becoming a flood. “I was only trying my best!”
“TRYING YOUR BEST!” she spat. “You never try your best. All you do is please yourself and make excuses.”
“No, I don’t. I’m always helping out with the washing up and making cups of tea. Why can’t we have a dishwasher like everybody else?” He demanded.
“Because we can’t afford it. I’ve told you bef..”.
“RUBBISH!” He shouted. “I’m SICK of being poor! I’m SICK of living in this run down house! I’m SICK of these second-hand clothes! I’m SICK of not going abroad! I'm SICK of SCHOOL! I'm SICK of this FACE! But most of all I’m SICK of YOU!”
He didn’t mean to say this. It just slipped out. He couldn’t help it.
“That’s enough, Jack!” demanded his dad “Stop shouting at your mum. Apologise to her at once. She does a lot for you. Clean this mess up and then get to your room!”
“NOOOOOOOOO!” He roared suddenly, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back!”
With that Jack stormed past them, knocking over a potted plant on the way, and left the house, slamming the front door behind him. They tried to follow, shouting and bellowing. But it was no use. Like a fox he ran away into the evening as fast as he could and didn’t look back.
He would never see his parents again.

Chapter 2: Blast-Off

Frustrated and angry, Jack ran as fast as he could down a narrow, winding country lane, which cut through a string of fields and woods. Eventually he arrived at his Cousin George’s house, which was on the sprawling Badgerton estate nearby. He grasped the shiny brass door-knocker on the white PVC door and rapped it three times. His auntie Margaret opened the door, her gold jewelry twinkling in the evening sunshine.
“Oh, you’ve turned up I see,” she said, her skin almost as golden as her bracelets. “Your mum’s rang and she says you’ve to go back home at once and clean up all the mess you’ve made.”
“But I-I-I-wanted to ask George,” he stammered “If he wanted to come out and p-p-play football with me?”
“No, he can’t,” she bellowed back, “He’s not allowed to play out with you tonight. He's got homework to do, and besides you’ve to go home and sort out that kitchen of yours.”
“Oh c-c-come on Auntie Margaret,” he begged. “Just for an hour, then I’ll go back home and clean it up, I promise.”
“No! Your mum says you’ve to go home now, and that’s the end of it.”
“O-o-okay, tell her I’m on my way,” he said, walking back down the drive.
“Oh no, you don't,” she said, “I'll drive you. I'll just go and fetch my keys.”
But Jack didn't want to go back with her. Not tonight. Not ever. So as soon as she went back inside he ran off towards the football pitch as fast as he could.

As Jack walked towards the side of the pitch he saw several boys playing football. As he'd been so eager to run away from his mum and dad he'd left his glasses behind, so he squinted his eyes in the bright evening sun and scanned their blurry faces, trying to work out who they were. He’d got to within a few feet of them when suddenly he realised that the boy in front of him was Gaz Finch, the biggest bully and self-proclaimed ‘cock’ of the school. One of the roughest boys in Rockingdale he was constantly being caught fighting, not just with other boys but also with some of the teachers too.
Thick-set, tall, and stocky, like a pit-bull terrier, he at once turned towards Jack, his whole, ugly face snarling.
“Hey, look who it is,” he shouted to his friends, through yellow, jagged teeth. “It’s Jack MONG!”
Immediately, his friends howled and shrieked with laughter.
“What d’you want Mongy?” He continued. “A new face and some new clothes ha ha ha!”
“I-I-I don’t want anything,” Jack stammered. “I-I-I just wanna play f-f-football.”
“NUTHIN? Don’t look like nuthin Mongy,” he yelled. “What do you want to play football for? Yer RUBBISH!”
“N-n-n-no, I’m not, I’m … I’m…” spluttered Jack.
“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n!” Gaz mocked back, to yet more howls of laughter.
“G-G-Gaz …I-I-I.”
But Gaz interrupted him again, his voice even angrier. “YER WANNA FIGHT? YER STARTIN’? Think you can show YOUR BIG RED FACE around here do yer?”
Then he began to push Jack, inching closer and closer, spit spraying all over his face.
Jack was terrified; he didn’t know what to do.
He held out his hands to try and prevent Gaz from getting closer, but all he did was slap them away.
“N-n-n-no,” Jack begged again “I-I-I just wanna p-p-play f-f-football, honest. I don’t want to fight yer Gaz, please!”
But his pleas only seemed to make Gaz angrier, and his pushes and shoves and his barks and yells became more forceful and more violent, as he brushed and slapped away at his arms.
“YEAH YER ARE, YER STARTIN’! He yelled again. “Think you can take me do yer Mongy? I’LL SHOW YER!”
With that Gaz punched Jack just below his right eye.
Immediately, his skin stung and seared.
“Arrgghhh!” Jack screamed at the top of his voice. “It hurts! It hurts! Stop! Stop! Stop! Please!” he begged, absolutely terrified, trying to back away, his heart hammering like a pneumatic drill.
But Gaz didn’t listen. He just kept on hitting him, his stinging fists swinging like wooden mallets.
“COME ON! COME ON! LET’S FIGHT!” he yelled, punches landing all over his face. “COME ON! COME ON!”
Then Jack spat out some blood. Gaz had bust his bottom lip.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” he kept shouting over and over again, his mouth stinging, blood dribbling down his bruised chin.
He didn’t know what to do. He was so scared. It didn’t seem real. He was trapped in a waking nightmare and he didn’t know how to get out.
Still Gaz's fists swung and clubbed away.
Finally, he did what he always did with the bullies.
He ran.
Gaz didn’t chase after him though. He didn’t need to. He’d got his fun for the evening. Today it was Jack. Yesterday it was a younger boy with ginger hair, glasses, and eczema. Tomorrow it would be someone different.
Jack ran from the football pitch across some fields, and through some bushes and trees, past flocks of startled sheep; leaping over mole hills and piles of cow dung, until eventually he came panting to Darnley reservoir.
There Jack sank down on one of its rough grassy banks and started to cry.
He felt weak, lonely, and pathetic.
He was still bleeding from his bottom lip, and his shoes and jeans were smeared with mud and cow dung. Thoughts whirred around his head. How was he going to explain his bloodied clothes to his mum and dad? Would he get black eyes? What would everybody say at school after the holidays? No doubt Gaz would tell the whole school that he’d beaten him up. Everybody was going to have a right good laugh at him.
He ran his fingers through his clammy hair, and then he started to cry again. He felt humiliated. He hadn’t even fought back …
He sat there for about twenty minutes feeling sorry for himself, until eventually the sobs subsided and the tears dried. He thought about his mum and dad too. He felt sorry for shouting at them and for breaking all those dishes. Though they were poor, he realised that they always did their best for him. His mum was always buying him t-shirts from the charity shops and his dad would often bring home bags of chocolate from the chocolate factory where he worked. The thought made him smile. He would go home and make it up to them, even if it did mean getting told-off and being grounded for a few weeks.
He wiped his bleeding lip with his hands and now bloodied t-shirt, and then he got up and trudged off towards home, spitting out a pink mixture of saliva and blood every few paces.
It was now approaching nine o’clock and it was beginning to get darker. The Moon had long since been visible overhead, resting on a bed of red and orange, and now poking through the increasingly dark sky were the first glimmers of a vast armada of stars.
It was at that moment that he saw out of the corner of his eye a small, bright, circular object moving across the horizon.
“It must be a plane,” he said out loud, but even so he continued to follow its course as it cut a path through the increasingly populous night sky.
His mind swirled with the possibilities: Could it be a satellite or a space station? Or perhaps it’s one of those new rockets taking tourists into space?
But just at that moment it suddenly turned around, changed course, and headed in his direction with incredible speed. He watched disbelievingly as it became an increasingly large, bright dot in the sky. In a matter of seconds this dot had then changed into a large, silver, elliptical-shaped object.
All the time it was getting closer and closer. Then suddenly in a matter of seconds it swooped down across the wide sprawling valley, close to where he was standing. He tried to run away, but it was no use. In no time at all it had whooshed over his head settling beside a dark, shadowy clump of trees about twenty feet in front of him.
It was absolutely massive, easily swamping the football pitch that he'd just run from. It was bright silver and shaped rather like a triangle, only more aerodynamic, being curved around the edges. It was absolutely silent and there were no windows, lights, panels, insignia, cockpits, engines, or mechanical instruments of any kind that he could see. It glimmered brilliantly in the cool moonlight; the moon, clouds and the stars reflecting off on its shiny, metallic surface.
Jack’s heart was beating wildly. For a few moments nothing happened - it just hung there suspended above the field, casting not even the slightest bit of shadow. Maybe it doesn't know I'm here? He thought.
He should have been terrified, he should have been panicking and running away in the opposite direction like he always did. But for some reason he didn't feel scared at all; if anything he felt calm and relaxed, welcome even.
He walked towards it, its size appearing all the more gigantic the closer he got, the battered image of the crescent moon glinting off its huge nose.
In no time at all, he was directly in front of it, the wavy image of the grassy field reflecting back at him. It had still not moved, and no landing ramp or steps of any kind had come down. It didn’t appear to know he was there.
Then for some unknown reason he had an idea to try and touch it. He stretched out his fingers, running them over its soft, fluid-like surface. And then, as if someone had pulled a lever or flicked a switch, he was inside, standing in a long tube-like corridor, his own awe-struck reflection staring back at him.
Jack Strong, the boy who had gotten an F for his latest science report, had just become the first boy inside an alien spaceship.

Chapter 3: First Contact

Jack looked down the corridor as it curved away into the distance.
It was bright and well-lit, and like the outside of the spaceship it was silver-looking, without any recognisable panels, buttons, or instruments of any kind. Indeed, he couldn’t even see where the light was coming from. There were no light bulbs, filaments, or even switches in the ceilings or walls. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The whole ship was absolutely silent. No engine purred and roared. No machinery whooshed and rattled. Not even his footsteps made a sound on the soft, shiny floor. All he could hear was the sound of his chest rapidly sucking in and out lungfuls of air.
Jack looked around frantically as he felt the fear rise in his chest. He reached out and touched one of the walls. Like the floor, it was hard and smooth, and yet it seemed softer than metal. When he ran his fingers over it, he could press the material down by about half an inch. The whole corridor seemed to be covered in this strange sponge-like material.
He stood there for a few minutes not knowing what to do. The whole ship seemed deserted. Not for the first time tonight he was alone and frightened. What had happened? How had he got inside? Would he ever be able to get out?
He turned around and tried desperately to find a way out - anything that he could open and escape through. He couldn't find anything. He attempted to grip the smooth silk-like walls, trying to prise open a non-existent door or hatch, but his hands just kept slipping off.
Then his fear and frustration began to boil over, his screwed-up fists pummeling the walls.
“WHO ARE YOU?” he shouted out to whoever might be listening “WHAT AM I DOING HERE? LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”
But there was no answer, only the echo of his own trembling voice.
Then suddenly, as if he'd pressed some hidden switch, a huge portion of the wall vanished.
Before him appeared a giant image of the Earth.
He jumped back, expecting to be sucked out into the vacuum of space at any moment. But nothing happened.
Then he reached out, his hands shaking. The image of the Earth rippled under his touch like a reflection on water. The wall was still there however, but it now seemed to be some kind of transparent window.
Looking down he was now high above Africa, with the pale yellow sands of the Sahara desert clearly visible next to the lush, green rainforests of Western and Central Africa. White and grey bands of clouds were drifting over South Africa and parts of Eurasia, and around all this was the bluest ocean Jack had ever seen.
When the spaceship had taken off he'd no idea. He hadn’t felt any acceleration, or heard the rush and boom of any rockets. It was like it had magically disappeared in one place and then re-appeared in another.
Not only was he the first boy to go on board an alien spaceship, but he had now become the first to fly into space too.
Then almost as quickly as the Earth appeared it dissolved into nothing, leaving Jack alone in the corridor once more.
Still too afraid to move, he sat in the corridor for a long time not knowing what to do.
After a while boredom and curiosity got the better of him and he decided to explore further down the corridor, turning around every now and again just to make sure he wasn’t being followed by some hairy, ugly space critter.
Where was everybody? Why weren't there any aliens or robots to greet him? That was what happened in the movies, right?
The corridor seemed endless. Every now and again he would pass some brightly-lit rooms that like the corridor were lit by a non-existent light source. On each of these there were no doors of any kind, nor no windows either. He could only guess as to what they were used for. He thought about going into some of them to explore, but thought better of it.
As far as he could make out there were no other levels to the ship. He saw no elevators, escalators, or stairs that led anywhere else. He saw no signs either. The only things he did see were some 3-D pictures of what looked like the Milky Way galaxy set against an even larger star. They seemed to be part of the wall itself. When Jack touched one it came alive, the shimmering stars revolving around the sun in the centre. He could even put his hand into the picture and feel the glow of the stars tingling on his fingertips.
He kept on walking for well over an hour, but he couldn’t find a way out.
Then he saw something brown on the floor in front of him. He bent over to have a look. It was dirt – his own. He'd gone round in a circle. He must have brought it onto the spaceship when he came aboard.
Not only was he on an alien spaceship thousands of miles above the Earth, with no way to get off, but he was also lost and without the faintest idea of where to go next.
Panicking, he began to run frantically around the spaceship; in the hope that he had missed something, or perhaps had taken a wrong turning. He hadn’t. About forty five minutes later he found himself back where he had started, next to several crumbs of dry mud and a few twisted blades of grass.
He slumped to the floor dejected, ran his hands through his clammy hair, and wondered what he was going to do next.
He was just about to go and explore one of the larger rooms when something large and heavy fell on top of him.
He crashed to his knees and fell over, his right cheek bouncing off the soft, spongy, floor.
Something was on top of him holding him down.
Whatever it was it was alive. He could feel its hot breath on the back of his neck and what felt like sharp claws or fingernails digging between his shoulder blades, ripping and tearing at his skin.
He managed to squeeze one of his arms out from under his body. He flapped and flailed at whatever was on top of him, grasping nothing but air. Eventually, he managed to grab what felt like tough dry leather, and wrenched-off whatever was holding him down.
Jack gasped. Facing him was a pair of big, round black eyes surrounded by a pale, milky head, and a mouthful of sharp, white teeth.
He barely had time to breathe but what the creature attacked him again, its sharp fingernails poking and jabbing at his eyes as its small nose twitched and prodded as it sucked in his scent. Within moments it was on top of him again, its gleaming teeth locked in an angry grimace as it tried to strangle him.
Then he heard the sound of laughter from the other end of the corridor. He turned around instantly.
Before him was what looked like a young teenage girl.
The first thing that he noticed was how red she was. She had bright red hair and eyes, crimson lips, light-red, pinkish skin, and she was even dressed in red, wearing a tight-fitting red suit that stretched all the way from her neck to her feet.
“Is that how you practice first contact on your planets?” she chuckled.
Jack laid there quietly not knowing what to say as the jawstrocity on top of him glared at her with its tar-like eyes.
Then suddenly it opened its mouth, snarling back at her, “No, of course not, I was just …I was just…”
It glared in the direction of Jack again, “I was just protecting myself. I thought that HE was going to attack ME!”
“No I wasn’t.” Jack yelled, still gripping its arms. “He attacked me, I did nothing to him, I swear.”
“I don't care, you can believe what you like,” it said, as it thrust him once more to the floor.
Then it got to its feet and walked quickly over to the red girl. “Where did you learn my language?” It demanded, the dark green veins in its skin almost popping out of its forehead.
“What do you mean? I was going to ask you the same thing. Where did you learn Rennish?”
“Very amusing,” it said, “Stop messing around and tell me where you learnt Asvari. Your accent is perfect.”
“Look,” she continued in a slightly arrogant tone “if you want to believe that I am speaking Asvari or Astar or whatever you want to call it then fine, but you might want to ask your friend over there how he can understand the both of us too!”
“He’s NOT my friend!” it spat, glaring at Jack who was still in a heap on the floor. “I ...”
Then it abruptly stopped. “What language are you speaking?” it demanded.
“What do you mean?” asked Jack, a little flustered.
“L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E!” It spelled out sarcastically. “What language are you speaking?”
“English, of course!” Jack replied, getting to his feet.
“See, I told you!” said the red girl triumphantly, her cheeks glowing.
“But how? It doesn’t make sense,” it said, looking confused.
Now it was her turn to spell it out, “We aren’t speaking each others' languages, but we are hearing them! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Somehow in this spaceship we are able to understand what other people say.”
“But that’s impossible!” said Jack. “How…”
“I don’t know how,” interrupted the red girl. “All I know is that it IS happening. Perhaps there’s something on board the spaceship that makes it possible. Maybe it’s the spaceship itself, or maybe our brains have been re-programmed in some way.”
Upon hearing that Jack immediately touched his head, worried that it might explode at any moment.
“Don't worry,” Vyleria continued, “I'm sure it's fine. By the look of it this spaceship is very advanced, so I'm sure it can handle a teeny-weeny bit of brain surgery. By the way what happened to your t-shirt? It looks like he's hurt you.”
“I didn't do anything to him!” protested the mouthful of teeth, its silver-grey spacesuit shimmering as his arms danced about in protest.
“No, it wasn't him,” Jack said, looking down at his blood-soaked t-shirt. “It was … it was … I fell.”
“You fell?” asked the red girl, not quite believing him.
“Yeah, I was playing football and I tripped and I fell and I hurt my lip.”
“And your cheeks and your nose and your forehead too?” she chuckled.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jack replied, shuffling his feet and fidgeting.
“See, I told you!” barked the mouthful of teeth “What do you take me for – some kind of monster?”
“No, of course not what do you take me for some kind of narrow-minded speciesist?”
“How did you both get here?” Jack asked, seizing a chance to change the subject and to stop them from arguing. “I’ve been walking around this corridor for ages but I didn’t see either of you.”
“I..I..” started the creature with the milky, green face, but again the red girl interrupted him, “I’ve been exploring some of the other levels. There’s some amazing stuff down there, you should check it out. I got around by using one of the transportation rooms. I found it by accident actually.”
“What do you mean the transportation rooms?” Jack asked.
“You know the transportation rooms!”
Jack looked at her blankly.
“Oh,” she said, reading his expression “You mean you haven't found them yet? What have you been doing you two? Come on, I’ll show you,” she said, chuckling to herself.
They followed her down the corridor and into one of the rooms that Jack had passed before. It didn’t look like anything special - just white and empty.
“What do you do?” Jack asked, staring at it as a monkey might do a computer “How does it work?”
“Here, I’ll show you,” she said, confidently. “First, you step inside and then think of wherever you want to go on the space ship. Wherever you think of, it sends you there.”
Then with that she stepped inside, turned round, closed her eyes and promptly vanished.
Jack was searching the room for her when suddenly he heard a voice behind him.
“Hi there!” said the red girl, tapping him on the shoulder.
He jumped about a foot in the air.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, gasping for breath.
“I simply thought of the next room along this corridor and it sent me there. You should try it; I've been having so much fun!”
Jack stepped forward, only for the other creature to elbow him out of the way. Then it stepped inside the room, closed its eyes, and vanished, before re-appearing moments later.
When Jack stepped inside the room he found he couldn’t concentrate. His head was a whirl of thoughts and feelings. He thought of the room next door, then the long corridor, Gaz Finch, the football pitch, arguing with his parents, the pen fight, the spaceship, seeing Planet Earth, how to get out, and then and then …
He found himself close to the ceiling.
He fell down immediately, bouncing lightly off the soft floor.
Then he heard the sound of laughter.
“Stop laughing at me!” he shouted.
“Sorry Jack,” said the red girl. “I can’t help it. I never thought that you’d be so funny!”
“I did,” snarled the mouthful of teeth, its green veins almost poking out of its cheeks.
I’m not going to be laughed at here as well as school, Jack thought to himself, so picking himself up he went back into the transportation room, closed his eyes, thought of the room next door, and vanished again.
He opened his eyes on a large white room. “Yes, I’ve done it!” he shouted, but when he went out into the corridor he realised that instead of re-appearing next door he had in fact ended-up in an identical room more than a hundred feet away.
He trudged back to yet more howls of laughter. It WAS like school all over again!
It took Jack five more attempts to get it right. Each time he got closer and closer, though once he ended-up in a room so far away it took him almost thirty minutes to walk back.
Eventually he got it right, though they still sniggered at him.
“Where should we go to?” the other creature asked the red girl, ignoring Jack completely. “Where haven’t you been to on the ship?”
“I came on board several floors down so I’ve been making my way up ever since, trying to see if anyone else was here,” she said. “I’m not even sure how many levels there are, let alone how many remain up or down. We could always keep going up I suppose. Maybe we will find others too. By the way my name is Vyleria. Vyleria Romen.”
“I’m Jack … Jack Strong,” Jack stammered.
“Number six hundred and thirty four, Alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” replied the other creature, matter-of-factly.
“That sounds more like a room in a space hotel than a name,” Vyleria chuckled. “What can we call you for short?”
“You can call me six hundred and thirty four, Alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” it replied, glaring at them both with those big, black eyes. “That's my name!”
“Yes, you're right,” said Vyleria, with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I didn't mean to laugh at you. I just thought that if for example we are fleeing from an exploding supernova (Jack didn't like the thought of this) or are caught up in a solar hurricane (or this) for the sake of simplicity calling out Number Six Hundred and Thirty Four, Alpha Wing, Andromeda Sphere, might be a bit too long and complicated, and perhaps even a tad dangerous. Do you have a nickname (Jack thought of a few at this point); something that we can call you for short?
For a moment Jack didn't think it was going to work, but then after a few seconds the jawstrocity stopped glaring at them. “Call me Ros,” it said.
“Ros?” asked Vyleria.
“Yes, Ros.” it punched back. “There do you like it? Can we move on now?”
“Okay, Ros it is then,” said Vyleria, smiling “Let’s go up to the next level and see what we can find. Try to concentrate Jack; you don’t want to end up in outer space!”

With that they stepped into the transportation room, vanishing one by one. Vyleria first, then Ros, and then finally a worried-looking Jack.

If you want to read how Jack gets on in his adventures please check out the link below:



Friday, 12 September 2014

How to take Criticism

Criticism sucks doesn't it? I mean there's nothing worse than sending off your brand new poem or story and expecting people to love it and say that it's the best thing they've ever read only for them to burst your finely-honed bubble with a few pointed barbs of criticism, or even in some extreme cases to say that it is rubbish and an outright disgrace to modern literature. But unfortunately though for the modern writer, criticism is as likely as the tide coming in - everyone gets it - even great whales like J.K Rowling, Stephen King and George R.R Martin get panned at times, never mind a few insignificant crustaceans like ourselves. But how can we deal with it, indeed should we deal with it at all? Well, the answer to that question is both yes and no, because it depends partly on the nature and validity of the criticism and on the writers themselves: as we are all individuals, with different needs, opinions, and beliefs what one writer sees as good advice maybe deemed utter nonsense by another and vice versa. But to give you writers more of an idea about what I'm talking about I have divided the criticism we receive into three distinct types:

Type One:

The first type of criticism is the kind that we can reject out of hand straight away for whatever reason. This can be because the criticism is particularly vitriolic in nature (and by implication uninformed) as has happened to me at least a couple of times in the past, or because for whatever reason their comments fail to make an impression on you in any way. Take for example, my debut novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant, which features a super-duper spaceship millions, even billions of years more advanced than anything we have today. A few months ago I showed one of the early chapters to a friend of a friend, and in his opinion the spaceship should've been less advanced, less sleek, more chunky and blocky, like many of the spaceships that have been depicted in TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and movies like District 9. I rejected his criticism straight away, not because his vision of spaceships had no validity, but because that was not the story that I wanted to tell. If my spaceships were more akin to those in Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars etc then it would've inevitably changed vital aspects of my story that I thought were important to the plot. Another good example would be when somebody (an author no less) criticised the start of Jack Strong and the Red Giant and suggested that I remove the scene where Jack has lost a pen fight and has pen marks all over his face. In her opinion she thought that I was telling too much to the reader too early. Unfortunately for her however, aside from the fact that I felt strongly about the scene in question, ALL of the people (including a professor of Children's Writing) who had read the first chapter loved that scene and thought that it grabbed the reader's attention and set up the character nicely. So of course there was no way that I could ever take their criticism on board.

Type Two:

The second kind of criticism is the exact opposite of the first type: this is the stuff that we accept straight away, nodding our heads as our critics impart good, sound, sage advice. Usually, but not always, this concerns the technique and the framework of the story and tends to centre around spelling, grammar, punctuation, repetition of words and/or plot/description, as well as the over use of adverbs, adjectives, and exclamation marks (this alone deserves a whole other blog entry). A few years ago I started upon an MA course in Creative Writing (Manchester Metropolitan University in case you're wondering). As I was in the poetry route I had to regularly attend workshops, where I had to submit one poem a week for peer review both by my fellow poets and by the esteemed Michael Symonds Roberts. Of course, with criticism a certainty, it was not without trepidation that I attended our weekly meetings. Early on in the course, Michael rather pointedly said that the poem I'd submitted was 'telling' too much and that in pretty much his exact words "poems today tend to utilise the pen like a lens. Your poems often employ widescreen, but I also want you to 'zoom in' and tell the reader what colour hair they have, what they are wearing etc". None of my poems were written like that. I was dumbfounded. Up until that moment I thought that my poems were the best thing since sliced bread and were exactly what the literary world needed. Hearing pretty much the opposite was hard to take, but I took it on board nonetheless - why? Firstly, because I knew he was right, and secondly because I knew that deep down if I followed his advice that I could write better, more publishable poems.

Type Three:

This is the hardest type of criticism to take because when we initially receive it it feels more like type one. We want to reject it straight away, to laugh at it out loud, to toss it from our minds like cheap garbage, to ignore it. Only we can't, and as days and even weeks and months pass we begin to dwell upon what was said and mull it over more thoughtfully, objectively, until at some point in the future we begin to incorporate the criticism into our work, if not wholly, then at least partly. We may hate it that the person responsible was right, but ultimately we will embrace it nonetheless. Why? Because we are ambitious writers and we want/need to get better so that one day in the indeterminate future it may be us dolling out the advice, us with our six figure publishing contracts, us with our books selling like hotcakes.  I clearly remember one of my tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University Jean Sprackland telling me that I was using far too many adjectives in my poems. I was indignant and I rejected it out of hand. I was after all writing about modern Chinese cities, with all the pollution and traffic and dirt and sludge swilling about the streets, so I felt the need to describe these often hellish scenes in my poems, often cramming in as many adjectives as possible. The problem with this - as I now realise - is that firstly sometimes less is better, such as by the simple effective use of colour or smell, and that secondly it interrupted the narrative that I was trying to tell. Eventually, at least in part (I still think that adjectives are an under-used commodity in modern poetry), I came around to her way of thinking and I now make greater effort to justify all of the adjectives that I employ. Ultimately, this has also had a lasting effect upon my novel writing too, with a lot of the over-description that was present in the first few Jack Strong chapters now residing in the reject file.

Final Word

At the end of the day, you have to decide which of these three categories applies to you and then process the criticism accordingly. But just because one person puts one piece of criticism in type one or type three doesn't mean you have to: we are all individuals and ultimately that is what makes our our stories and poems so readable, so unique. Warning sirens should however be sounding in your head if you are either rejecting 100% of the criticism you receive or accepting it blindly. If you listen and apply all of the prods, suggestions, and pushes that you receive you will likely end up twisting your novel or poem beyond all recognition and thus in the long run satisfy nobody. On the other hand if you reject every nugget of criticism that comes your way then you will in all likelihood become so entrenched in your opinions and writing methods that you will cease to view your project in the eyes of the reader. Ultimately, through a mixture of constant writing and reading we have to develop the fierce critic within ourselves, thus giving us the knowledge and vision to decide which piece of criticism belongs in which category, which in the end will ensure our novel or poem's success.

You can also check out my debut novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant about a bullied 12 year old boy's adventures in space: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M22USRE

Monday, 8 September 2014

How to promote your book online

Book Promotion

Following on from my earlier post about book promotion for Amazon-published books I thought I'd give some of my personal insights into the various social media platforms (as well as several other routes) that I've used to promote my book (Jack Strong and the Red Giant available @ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M22USRE) and how successful I feel they've been.

Facebook

I think of all the media platforms that I've used, Facebook has been the most successful in helping me spread the word and generate a bit of buzz about my novel. I think the main reason for this is the fact that of the 850+ people that I am 'friends' with I actually know most, if not all of them, thus leading to more of them taking a greater interest in my novel that might otherwise have been the case. And then when you consider the 'share' option there is also the chance that my friends can share my work/news/updates with all of their friends and so on and so forth, thereby leading to a greater reach for a wannabe, 'indy' author like myself. Facebook is also an extremely flexible social media tool and can be utilised in any number of ways, such as by setting up 'like' pages, where my fans can read more about my current and future work, which can again help generate vital buzz and sales. Ultimately, all of my efforts on Facebook has led to somewhere in the region of 140+ downloads. Not great, but not bad either, and certainly a social media tool that I'll return to again and again in an effort to keep my novel growing and become more popular.

Twitter

I joined Twitter mainly because I saw it as another social media tool which I could exploit to help promote and generate further buzz for my book. Through this I can post info (in 140 character bursts) about my novel or any related offer or promotion. When you consider that - with vigorous social networking - you can add literally thousands of people to your network the potential is there for your book to reach thousands of people. However in practice, I haven't found it to be quite so easy and straight forward as that. Take for example, a recent promotion I ran where my book was free for two days. I posted and posted on twitter saying that it was free, posting photos, and even giving links to sample chapters but I barely even got a re-tweet, never mind a download, leading to my promotion not being as successful as I'd first envisaged. At the same time however, I have found that when I've posted photos of my front cover that it has generated a bit of chatter, with people asking how it was done, where I got it from, and how good they thought it was etc, so it hasn't been a complete waste of time. Ultimately, as opposed to Facebook, I would say that the biggest problem with using Twitter as a means to generate further downloads is the fact that the vast majority of people on there don't know you or your work, and thus it is quite literally a 'hard sell' trying to convince them that your book is an undiscovered masterpiece as opposed to boring, badly written bonfire material. That said however, it is a social media platform that I will nonetheless persevere with, as it has at least generated some - if not a lot - of buzz, and there is always the chance that as my friends increase that more and more people will become aware of my work, thus leading to more downloads.

Writehere


I'm not sure if many people are aware of this website - www.writehere.com - but I have found it to be quite a good way of connecting writers with readers. Basically, the premise is this - you post samples of your novel, or blog, or poems onto the site for readers to read, comment upon, and share with Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google+. What's good about it? Well, almost every one of my posts have been read by 100+ people together with at least 3 shares. Great eh? Not entirely, as this has not exactly translated into additional sales/downloads of my book. If everyone who read chapters 1-5 had bought my book then I'd be looking at perhaps 300+ downloads now as opposed to my current 140. That said however, rather like Twitter it still has a role to play in generating buzz, and the fact that people are READING my various chapters and blog posts is always a good thing, and should be considered a reward in itself. If you are a writer and want to bring your book to NEW readers then I very much recommend you check out this site.

Google+

It's taken me a while to 'get in' to Google+ but it's finally winning me over. A little bit like Writehere, it does a very good job at bringing writers and readers closer together, though again don't expect an avalanche of downloads. The best thing I'd say about Google+ is that it is a great way to disseminate your writing (including this blog) among fellow writers (particularly review swaps) but whether at the end of the day they click the download button on amazon is hard to say. That said though, it is nonetheless a very good place to foster and get involved with debates on writing and the publication process etc.

Tumblr

I'm not sure how any other writers (well prose/novel writers at least) have fared with this social media platform but so far I have found it to be very disappointing. Of the 150+ people (mostly fellow writers) that I've added only 6 have so far added me as a friend, meaning that whenever I post something the reading pool is actually quite small and barely worth the effort. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll continue posting here as most of the posts I see tend to be silly pictures posted and re-posted ten zillion times. If I was scoring these platforms out of ten, I'd give this a 0 or a 1. Disappointing.

Linkedin

I only joined linked in because a friend recommended it to me as a means to further disseminate my writing. My opinion? Meh ... I don't think one person has commented on one thing I've posted and it seems mostly for 'professional' people to buzz around on saying what great jobs they've got ... but I'll still continue posting on here as I can link to it via Writehere.com so it's just about worth the effort. Just.

This Blog

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to put down my ideas about writing, the writing craft, as well as documenting the many joys and frustrations of being an indy, Amazon-published author desperate to climb the publishing ladder. The other reason was that I hoped that if people read this blog then they may just (especially considering I give it a few mentions) go and buy my book. So far, I'm not sure if this has been a success or not, but to be honest the act of writing a blog alone is worth the effort and a further stimulant to further creative effort. Besides, I want to connect with other writers and hear what they think about writing, and publishing etc so in the end it has to be considered a an immensely worthwhile endeavour.

Good reads

The best thing about Good reads, like Amazon, is that it is a great place for readers to comment upon your work. So far I have 3x 5 star reviews on my own author site (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22840831-jack-strong-and-the-red-giant) plus the site lets you know when somebody 'adds' your book to their reading list, which - trust me - can be a vital boon to your self-confidence when sales are otherwise flagging. The down side to good reads is that you are still a hostage to fortune. It reflects the success - or lack of it - of your book elsewhere and so if you are struggling to get people to download your book, then this lack of activity will also be reflected here. Perhaps the best thing about good reads is the 'recommend' function where you can let your friends know all about what books are must-reads; so if enough people are recommending your book to others and giving it stellar 5 star reviews then this will in turn generate further sales and downloads. The only problem is that much of the novels being discussed and recommended tend to be those that are already well-established, and unlike mine are not in really in need of further attention - that's what a movie will do for you!

Giveaways

As my book is a Young Adult novel it is vital that I connect with my target audience. To this end, I have donated four paperbacks to a couple of teachers I know in the U.K. Two of these books have gone straight into the school library whilst the other two are being used as teaching material at a variety of schools. The main thing here is the fact that my books are now under the noses of my target audience, a prospect which I find really exciting and potentially very rewarding. Indeed, I've already received feedback that one of the boys at one of the schools has not only read my book and been enthralled by it, but he has also picked up his pen and written his own novel.

Reviews

Another route that I am putting a lot of energy into at the moment is reviews. There are many amateur (but no less informed) reviewers online who will review books for free, though it may take a little time. So far I've had three 5 star reviews, with hopefully many more to come, which is important as Amazon has done a lot of research which suggests that the number of positive reviews you have is closely tied-in with how many books you sell, hence my eagerness to get some good reviews as it will generate further buzz and more importantly sales. The downside to this however, is that you have to painstakingly send off for reviews over and over again, with sometimes no response from the reviewer. At the moment in order to fight review fatigue I am currently limiting myself to one one hour period a week where I try to send off for as many reviews as possible.

Final Word

If you have any thoughts on the above or if you know of other ways to promote your e-book please let me know in the comments section below.