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If you’ve been paying attention, you may have seen that I’m finally in the process of making Ravens Gathering available as a paperback.  It hadn’t been high on my list of priorities when I first published, but a few developments over the last year or so have led me to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do.

In no particular order, those developments are:

  • I’ve been asked for copies. Not loads, but I know there are potential readers who’ll never buy an eBook, so they’re feeling deprived at the moment.  Obviously, they might feel differently once they’ve read it, but by that time I’ll have pocketed the money and be sunning myself in the Bahamas… until I wake up.
  • Through my involvement with Sheffield Speakers Club, I was asked to give a talk to a local group last year. Always glad to grab an opportunity, I put together a talk about my experience as a self-published author.  What I was conscious of at the end was the fact that I could have sold some copies if I’d had them with me.  It’s always a good idea to get a sale while it’s on the buyer’s mind rather than suggest they go online and look you up on Amazon.  If it had been a one-off, I’d probably have just shrugged and moved on.  But I’ve since done another, and a third is booked, with enquiries for more.
  • Over the coming months, a long-term plan is coming to fruition. I’m selling my business and giving up the day job. There are still hurdles to jump before everything’s concluded, but when it is I’ll be in the fortunate position of being able to focus on writing full time. It’s not a fortunate enough position that I’ll be able to do it forever without earning a bean, but I reckon I’ve got 4-5 years to get on with things.
  • A knock-on effect is that I’ll want to open up more sales channels for my book(s), and having a paperback gives me additional options.
  • A second knock-on effect is that, whilst I’ll be able to afford to live, I won’t have the same level of available cash as I do now. With that in mind, and because it’s more tax efficient to do it while I’m earning, I’m using some of my current income to cover the cost of getting the paperback published.

Now, for those of you who followed my No Rules series of blog posts, you’ll know that it’s possible to produce a paperback on a Print on Demand basis – Createspace, Lulu, FeedARead, for example – and do so at little or no initial cost.

However, when I looked at this, I was experiencing some problems with getting the price right for the size of the book.  It’s not an epic, but it does run to over 400 pages, and that was resulting in a sale price of around £12 or more. In addition to that, I was struggling with getting the formatting right – or maybe I couldn’t be bothered, one of the two.

So I decided I’d invest some money, and pay a professional publisher to do the hard work. That process has now begun, and I’ll provide feedback on my experience as things come to fruition.

One of the issues that became apparent as I entered discussions with the publisher was how to arrive at a suitable price for the book – a subject that warrants a separate post all on its own, and I’ll share it very shortly.

What I’ll say for now is that we’ve reached a stage where the book is available for pre-order on Amazon.  The important message from me, though, is this: DO NOT RUSH TO PUT IN AN ORDER!

To make any money on Amazon, I was still going to have to set a retail price of almost £13.00, and that is simply because of how much they take as a percentage of the sale price.  Anything less than that will result in it costing me money.

Bearing in mind that I didn’t want to overcharge for the book through other outlets, I’ve set the price at £8.99. With Amazon, that will cost me 92p every time someone buys my book.  So, for now at least, please only buy the eBook through Amazon.  I’ll let you know what other buying options there are as they become available.

 

 

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There may be some of you out there who recall me writing last year about giving a talk. Although I’m involved with Sheffield Speakers Club, I hadn’t spoken to a group of complete strangers for a while and, thanks to a distinct lack of preparation, I was a bag of nerves when I got there.  Even so, it went well, and I enjoyed the experience (for those of you who didn’t read it, the post is here).

I was left feeling enthusiastic about the prospect of doing it again and, sure enough, within a month or so, I got a call from someone who’d heard the talk, asking if I could give it to a different group.  What I’d forgotten about groups like this – WI, Rotary Clubs, etc. – is that they have to book their speakers for the forthcoming season.  That means your booking can be for a year or more ahead.

So the opportunity to repeat the talk has only just occurred and, having had a few days to let the experience settle in my memory, I wanted to reflect on it.

The first thing I noticed was how relaxed I was about it this time – by comparison, at least.  It’d be a lie to say I had no nerves and, frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I actually commented to my partner that I was worried by the fact that I wasn’t nervous enough.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to be a quivering wreck.  But I know from experience there’s a sweet spot, where there’s just enough tension to keep me sharp and focused, and not so much that I can’t be removed from the Gents.

As it turned out, I must have been pretty close to that sweet spot.  There was a tremor in my hand as I began to speak, but a few minutes later it was gone.  As for how well the talk went down, you’d have to ask the audience to get a fair answer.  From my perspective, I didn’t feel it was quite as strong as the first time, but the reaction seemed positive.  One member of the audience did say afterwards that it must have been good because no one fell asleep, which does leave you wondering about the standard of speaker they’re used to.

A more positive indicator was being asked for my card by someone who was interested in arranging for me to give a talk to another group.  And the organiser of this event asked if I gave talks on anything else, so I guess if I can come up with a different theme I’ll be invited back.

For those of you who are curious, the title of the talk is How to Become a Bestseller, which plays on the fact that Ravens Gathering was briefly a number one bestseller.  If you don’t believe me, check out my Twitter page.  As I say at the beginning of the talk: I’ll tell you the story of how it happened – but, as with most good stories, there is a twist.

The story I tell explores the modern world of publishing, the rise of the Indie author, how digital developments have changed the market, and how the sale of books has been transformed over the last 10-15 years.  And all in 45 minutes to an hour, so you can tell I don’t get technical.

Of course, it also presents an opportunity to talk about Ravens Gathering and – hopefully before too long – other books that I’ll be bringing out.  And they paid me for turning up.

I know that public speaking isn’t for everyone, but if the opportunity presents itself, it’s a great opportunity to get out and promote your work – and actually meet people.  This cyber world we inhabit has many great attributes, but as anyone who attended a Bloggers Bash knows, it’s even better to open up your senses and see, hear and touch (appropriately, obviously) other people*.

So give it a try.  You never know, you might even sell a few books as well.

 

 

 

 

*Smelling and tasting is optional, and only with the consent of the other party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After giving some feedback to Marje (find her on the delightfully quirky blog site Kyrosmagica) about the prologue to her current WIP, she suggested I write a post on the subject.  I suspect my enthusiasm for prologues came across quite strongly.

To be fair, I think that enthusiasm stems from a misspent childhood. (Sadly, when I say misspent, I mean my life revolved around the TV rather than getting up to any more interesting shenanigans.)

You see, a lot of the TV shows of the 60s and 70s opened with a scene to set up the rest of the programme. That set-up might be a crime being committed, a pursuit (surprisingly often in the case of The Avengers), or even an incident unrelated to the rest of the story, but demonstrating the hero’s abilities.

The bottom line, though, is that prologues are basically pre-title sequences.

I was talking to another author a couple of years ago who’d read Ravens Gathering and felt I should get rid of the prologue.  I can’t recall her exact argument, but the sense I had was that prologues were no longer considered either necessary or (for want of a better word) fashionable.  Never having been noted for my fashion sense, this wasn’t an argument I was ever going to agree with.  What matters to me is whether it works.

So here’s what I think a prologue can do:

  1. Introduce a significant character
  2. Create a question in the reader’s mind – e.g. I wonder what was really happening in that scene?
  3. Set the tone or theme for the rest of the story

I don’t mean they need to do all of them, but at least one.

Let’s look back at some examples from the TV of my childhood.

Every episode of The Saint introduced Simon Templar.  There would often be an opening monologue, sometimes action, then the inevitable halo.

A lesser known series, Department S has fallen off the radar for a lot of people, though more will remember its spin-off Jason King. While the production values of the programme would be laughed at now, the openings were always very good at drawing you in.  Watch this one up to the titles and I dare you not to be left wondering “How did that happen?”

Also drawing you in, but really setting the tone for what happens next was this short prelude to an episode of The Sweeney.

I’ve picked on those examples because you can watch them in a couple of minutes (unless they really worked and you were dragged into watching the whole episodes). Do you see what I mean, though?  They’re a hook.

And, if you use a prologue in the same way, unlike the first chapter, they don’t have to be directly part of the narrative. What I mean by that is that the prologue doesn’t have to fit sequentially into the timeline of the rest of the book.  Events there can take place:

  1. At some point in the dim and distant past – an event that foreshadows what will happen in the story
  2. At the climax to the story, but shown as a preview – a teaser, if you like, of what’s to come,
  3. At a significant turning point in the story, which may well be part way in – again a preview/teaser

To the reader, it won’t always be clear which applies – that’s part of the mystery that they’re looking forward to unfolding.

Obviously, these are my interpretations of what prologues need to do for the story. Their ultimate aim, though, is to leave the reader wanting to read more.  If they don’t do that, they shouldn’t be there.

So when you’re deciding on the next book to read, look at the sample on Amazon or, if you’re still supporting bookshops, pick up a hard copy. If it has a prologue, read it, and ask yourself if it fits into any of the criteria I’ve mentioned.  If it doesn’t, but it still hooks you in, let me know.  I’m not claiming this is an exhaustive list, so I’ll be happy to add to it.

If anyone wants to give me feedback on my own prologue, follow this link and click on “look inside” for a free sample.

And, if you’re writing a prologue yourself, ask yourself whether it meets the criteria. But consider something else as well: how would the ending blend into theme music and a title sequence?

 

 

 

 

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Getting home last night, I was feeling pretty peeved. As it was past eleven and my partner was already settled down in bed, this probably wasn’t a great state to be in. I’m sure the last thing she needed was me ranting at the side of the bed.

So what had brought my irritation on? The Man From UNCLE.

Believe it or not, I’m too young to have seen the TV series when it was first aired. But I do remember seeing re-runs and the movie versions in the 1970s. As a boy, I lapped up the excitement and adventure in the same way I did watching The Saint, The Avengers and James Bond.

It’s been a while since I last saw The Man From UNCLE , so I’m sure my memories are fragmented and imbued with a rosy tint. That was certainly the case when I watched old episodes of The Avengers recently. But there were certain characteristics of the franchise very familiar to fans.

Without exception, none of these were present in the new movie. In fact, the only similarities were the names of the key characters. From that point of view, I’d have enjoyed the film more with a completely different title and if there’d been no Napoleon Solo or Illya Kuryakin.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? If you’re going to make a movie based on an old TV series you are, by default, appealing to the fans. But what the fans want is to see more of the stuff they saw in the past. Of course, you need to freshen things up a bit (frankly, you wouldn’t get away with some of the storylines from ‘60s TV shows these days), but you still need to feed the nostalgia.

Funnily enough, the week before I’d been to see Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and that was brilliant. Probably not a lot of plot, but all the elements were there to make an exciting film, with enough nods to the original to pander to us nostalgia freaks.

To be fair, the Mission Impossible films haven’t always worked for me, but that’s been down to the style of filming rather than a lack of appeal to the nostalgic in me. But in the main they’ve worked, so I wondered last night why MI worked and UNCLE didn’t. After all, at least the main characters were still in place for UNCLE.

Spoiler alert for the few who haven’t seen the first MI film. If you don’t want to know a key plot point, stop reading now.

The character most associated with MI is Jim Phelps, and he appeared in the first movie. But in a neat twist he became the bad guy. This was a master stroke. It made seeing a different actor playing the part more palatable, whilst allowing the introduction of a new main character.

More importantly, the films retained core elements of the series – the lit fuse, self-destructing messages, ingenious masks, breaking into impregnable vaults (the impossible bit) or the instantly recognisable theme music.

So MI brought the concept up to date, whilst pandering to the nostalgics who love to be reminded of our childhood.

UNCLE, on the other hand, missed everything that I loved about it. Henry Cavill’s Solo lacked the easy amiability Robert Vaughn brought to the part. Armie Hammer played Kuryakin as a giant blunt instrument with feelings, while David McCallum’s version had an underplayed sensitivity, but was also more of a geek. There weren’t even the little references that would tickle the old fans’ fancies – no tailor’s shop fronting UNCLE HQ, no THRUSH, no “Open Channel D”. They didn’t even use the theme music.

I appreciate you’ve got to bring the thing up to date, so it’ll appeal to current audiences. I also recognise that, because of the way the film ended, it’s intended as background to show the formation of the United Network Command for Law Enforcement (just in case you weren’t sure). For that reason, UNCLE wasn’t even mentioned until the closing lines of the film. Even so, the producers needed to give us something familiar to latch on to, otherwise they may as well have just started a new franchise altogether.

To be fair, UNCLE isn’t the first such film to miss the point. The aforementioned Avengers (John Steed and Emma Peel, not Tony Stark and cronies) was a complete disaster, as was the Val Kilmer version of The Saint. In the case of The Avengers, the whole concept worked in the ‘60s but just doesn’t fit make sense in any other era. The Saint really just missed the whole point, abandoning Leslie Charteris’ vision and that of any previous film and TV adaptations.

I know you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Hell, I know from my experience with Ravens Gathering that some people love it, some hate it. So I realise my comments simply reflect my opinion. I also appreciate that bringing an old franchise back means walking a fine line to get it right. But personally I think anyone trying to do the same thing in the future should look at what went right for Mission Impossible and, by the same token, Doctor Who. Change it by all means, but keep well-loved key elements.

So, because it wasn’t included, I’ll close with something that might bring back memories. If it doesn’t, and you’ve seen the new movie, just think how much better it would have been with something like this as a soundtrack…

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A few things have conspired recently to get me writing again. The Bloggers Bash and its immediate aftermath were given more than sufficient airplay here. But there was something else in the pipeline, and that experience is worth sharing too.

I mentioned in my last post that I’m a member of Sheffield Speakers Club. At the end of last year, we were approached by a local branch of the Townswomen’s Guild looking for speakers. I jumped at the chance as it would be good practice.

As with many groups of this type (WI, Rotary etc.), they were booking for the year ahead, so I wasn’t due to speak until this month. With it being so far away, I didn’t rush to prepare in advance – which meant it was left until the last minute.

With the talk due on the Thursday, I finally looked at it properly on the Tuesday evening. Nerves began to build at this point as I realised I had to fill 45 minutes – and make it interesting. And that meant putting together good content and rehearsing.

That evening, a good chunk of Wednesday and three hours on Thursday were spent in front of the bathroom mirror. Attractive though I am, even I was beginning to tire of the sight of myself by the time I left.

I arrived early and spent half an hour kicking my heels, surprised to realise my nerves were subsiding – though not gone completely. Then it was time to speak.

Imagine the scene. Two rows of chairs filled with around 30 women. A long table stands about six feet in front of them, and I’m on the other side of it. Normally, I don’t like a barrier between me and my audience, but that was a narrow gap and I was apprehensive.

Within a minute of starting, a woman at the back raised her hand and asked me to speak up. Strangely, it was just what I needed. The audience were interacting, and it prompted me to move round the table because I figured being a few feet closer she might hear me better. Turns out I was wrong about that, but by changing my position I’d brought us all closer together in more ways than physical distance.

I’d be lying if I said the rehearsed talk went exactly as planned. It didn’t, and questions from the audience sent me off-piste several times, even to the point that I got to the end and suddenly remembered an important point I’d intended to make earlier. But by this time, the barriers were down so far I felt comfortable enough to admit my mistake, blame them (tongue in cheek) for asking questions and then cover the missing item.

Groups like this pay speakers for coming along. It’s not enough to earn a living from, but they like to make a payment to at least cover travel expenses, and to reflect their appreciation. Frankly, I was happy to do it for the practice alone. Nevertheless, when the original negotiation had taken place a fee had been agreed, though I’d forgotten what it was. So, just before the meeting, when I was asked to confirm my fee I vaguely recalled a figure of £25, but automatically reduced it to £20.

When the talk was over and everyone was getting ready to leave, I was handed a cheque for £40. In spite of my protests, they insisted that my talk had been worth it.

I earn a good living from my day job and, frankly, if I’d put in the same hours I put in preparing for that talk I’d have expected to be paid hundreds of pounds. But that extra payment meant so much to me because it reflected their appreciation of what I’d done.

More importantly, they said they thought other branches would be interested in having me along to talk as well, so I may be getting some phone calls in the coming months.

But why am I telling you this? Because some of you reading this post are authors. And it seems to be the received wisdom of the moment that to market your books you do most of it online.

My talk was about the changes in the publishing world and why a lot of authors are taking more seriously the option of publishing independently. Which gave me the opportunity to mention Ravens Gathering, and some interest was shown in it by audience members – if not for themselves, then other family members. So this as an opportunity to market my work as well. For now, it’s a subsidiary part of the process, but as I fine-tune my talk I think this could be a useful extension to my efforts to raise name awareness – and it gets me away from the computer.

In the mean time, having the opportunity to talk about my writing acted as another incentive to get back to it. After all, there’s a growing audience for my work now.

Could it work for you too?

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When I first set up this website, I wrote a post that clearly set out its purpose.  It’d be about sharing experiences that have taught me lessons in life.

A by-product of that exercise was to introduce people to my writing, which I hope it’s done in two ways.  The first was to demonstrate that I can string coherent sentences together.  The second wasn’t something I planned, but it became apparent to me as time passed.  By writing about very emotional experiences, readers would probably realise that I’m very interested in people and how we respond to situations.  And, if that was clear, it may also suggest to readers that this is reflected in my fiction.

Don’t worry, my stories aren’t introspective or navel-gazing.  What it does mean, though, is that, when I write a thriller, adventure or horror story, there’s more to it that a fast-paced plot.  Each of us is flawed, a result of life experiences.  Some people have learnt from those experiences, some are working their way through the effects, and some scarred for life.  So, entertaining as it may be to read about or watch James Bond or Dirty Harry, a story offers more of an edge if you sense that the characters aren’t fully equipped to deal with everything life (or a storyline) throws at them.

So, in viewing my posts, I hoped readers would sense my fiction would have more depth.

As time has passed, though, I’ve realised that, by focusing on a particular theme, I’ve constrained myself too much.

Occasional thoughts would occur to me that I felt were worth sharing.  They might be triggered by recent events or something that inspired my writing, but they didn’t quite fit the site’s remit.  I also realised I’m not supporting other independent authors as much as I could be, either by posting book reviews or sharing posts from bloggers that warrant a wider audience.

So I’ve concluded that I’ve been working within a self-imposed strait-jacket.  Which isn’t fun – unless you’re with the right person and they know the code word.

Having just gone through some major changes in my working life, I’ve not been able to write in recent months.  But I’m coming out of that now, and as I do I can feel the creativity coming back.  The need to write is getting stronger.

My intention with this site was to write an item every month.  I suspect that rate will increase over the coming months, though I won’t be putting up posts daily (was that a sigh of relief at the back?).  Among those posts there’ll still be life lessons, but there’ll also be more of the stuff I’ve not been doing – and, be warned, there’s one on its way in the next day or so.

So, to the purists who’ve enjoyed my writing to date, I hope you’ll not be deterred by the wider range of posts.  And to those who are curious to see what happens next….

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Katrina Marie

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