Sunday, July 24, 2011

Win a Manuscript Appraisal (Worth $480)

Dearest blog followers,

The time has come to be honest with you. You see, for the past several weeks I have been cheating on you. Cheating? Yes, I've been seeing another blog behind your backs. A blog that I believe is (mostly) informative, and (mostly) helpful and is (sometimes) a carbon copy of this blog. You see, much as I'll always be grateful to blogger for providing my first foray into the wonderful world of blogging, I've been introduced to a slightly more attractive and appealing blog hoster, by the name of Wordpress, and I've been testing it out for a few weeks. Now, the time has come for me to end my partnership with Blogger (It's not you, Blogger, it's me. Wordpress just allows me a better way to manage my comments, and to review my site statistics, but you know I'll always have a special place in my heart for you, dear old Blogger).

I'm hoping that most, if not all, of you lovely followers will follow me across to my new blog

To inspire you to do so, here's a carrot:

Win a manuscript appraisal or partial edit (worth $480)

Those of you who drop by regularly will know that I recently released my first ever self-published e-books Growth (a poetry collection) and Cage Life (a book of two short stories). As part of promoting those little babies, so they don’t just vanish into the ether, I’m running a competition over on my wordpress blog to promote Cage Life.

Trade-published author I may be, but I’m also a professional editor who has worked in publishing for more than 14 years. I have edited books in a number of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, and I offer a freelance editorial and manuscript appraisal service. Most recently I edited David Gaughran’s short stories and indispensable self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital, and you can check out what he has to say about me here.

As such, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a win-win situation for me to get my work out there and you to get a professional critique on your manuscript of 100,000 words or fewer. I normally charge $480 for this service, but the winner will get it for FREE! (Alternatively, if the winner doesn’t want an appraisal of the entire manuscript, they will get 11 hours of actual copy-editing on their manuscript, which is about 11,000 words worth). There will also be other prizes awarded for creativity. Entries are open until 31 August, so there's plenty of time to sign up, and I'll make the coupon for a free copy available to all of you, because you're all lovely folk. Here it is UE25B. 

So much as I am sorry to inconvenience you, I do hope you'll stop over and subscribe to the new blog, and I do hope you sign up for the competition too. 

Thanks for following, and I hope you stay with me through this change. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And that's why they call it fiction

Yesterday I took another tentative step in the direction of e-book self-publishing and put a collection of two short stories out there into the ether. You can check the collection out here or at Amazon.

One of these stories, the eponymous Cage Life, has been published before under the title Still Life by [untitled] magazine here in Australia. When it was released, published in print in a slim volume with a garish illustrated cover, I passed copies around to several people to inspire them to admire me (it didn’t work!) although several lovely people even coughed up for a copy.

The story is written in first person from the point-of-view of a young wife and mother and, without giving too much away, starts off charting her carefree, drug-taking university years and spirals into tragedy. My intention was to explore the gamut of a woman’s feelings about liberation and love. How often women feel trapped by their own choices, how often we overlook the signs of love and mistake them for something else, and often we inadvertently fail to prioritise the most important things in life, even while simultaneously trying to put everyone and everything else above ourselves. But when the book came out, so many times the reaction from those who don’t know me well—or well enough to realise that I am begrudgingly unmarried (yes, I know! Talk to my hesitant loving partner and baby daddy folks) and my daughter is just 15 weeks old despite the story being written more than two years ago now—is, “It’s so sad. It’s not based on real life is it?”

My answer is that it is fiction. I made it up. As a writer I am an incurable liar and I make shit up all the time. It’s what I do. So while it is entirely fictitious, it is, of course, based on real life. The events that take place in my character’s life are in part based on some of the experiences I have had. “The Cow” couch in the story, for instance, really did exist. Some of my best ideas were formed perching on its “furry flanks.” But now I get my inspiration the old-fashioned way (read: wine, or insomnia). I did, at some point, have an ex who was a lawyer and I did live in the “Dolls House.”

Having said that, the “crux” of the story, the tragedy that unfolds, thankfully never happened to me or to anyone I know and love, although such tragedies happen to families around the world every day. I suppose the story is a cautionary tale of just how easy it is to lose sight of the important things for just a few seconds in the midst of a busy life. Sometimes I need to remember that. Sometimes we all do. But hopefully it is a lesson none of us ever have to learn in such a painful and pointless way.
As for the second story … well I hope no one ever mistakes me for an 80-year-old!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poetry—an affair with words

Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about poetry. Out loud. Not under my breath. Not in a darkened community hall or a smoky bar filled with beret-wearing weirdos, but as a valued, time-honored artistic pursuit. It is no secret that, as a creative art, poetry is among the most neglected. It seems more people write poetry (with varying degrees of success) than read it, and even some of the most accomplished short story writers I know insist they don’t “get” poetry. Not only is readership low, but as a result it is difficult to get poetry published (or at least in a paying publication) and it is even harder to find reviewers. And it is next to impossible to make enough out of your poetry to live on; however, that is true for most writing, depending on your lifestyle requirements (that is, whether you can survive on dry crackers or not).

I have loved poetry since I was a small child. In fact, when I was just eight I won a poetry competition with a poem called “Pioneering Days.” My mother still has it tucked away in a drawer somewhere, illustrated with hand-drawn clunky Clydesdales plodding away beneath a radiant orange sun. That competition won me ten bucks. I was elated. I bought a kite and still had plenty left for several trips to the corner store for $1 bags of lollies. Ahhhh, those were the days. Success! How sweet it seemed. Winning that competition led me to believe, erroneously, that poetry was a lucrative pastime that would one day put my name up in lights. Hah.

Even after my realisation that publishing poetry was a mug’s game, I continued to write poems. Sometimes it was cathartic. Sometimes it just killed an hour or two. Sometimes I simply couldn’t help it: I was struck by lyrical words that arranged themselves beautifully in my head and wouldn’t leave until they were scrawled on paper or forced into some kind of rhyme. I also continued to read poems. And I continued to subject (not submit) my poems to competitions. I even won a few more, although by then I recognised that as a nice buzz but nothing to write home about.

Perhaps because I have spent my life being swept away by poetry's allure, a part of me always wonders why many writers aren’t as seduced by poetry as I am. Perhaps the distinction is that writing novels is about perception and projection—empathizing with the characters then projecting your make-believe world out there for the reader to inhabit; Poetry, on the other hand, is introspection—the world looking in. There is a certain vulnerable nudity about poetry that makes some people uncomfortable.

Me, I like poetry's honesty, but, most of all, I like that it represents language distilled. It is the purest form of writing. Metaphor condensed. Imagery concentrated. Words in poems don’t just talk to the reader, they sing. And they have to work as a finely orchestrated choir, even though, often, the weight of each word is greater than the whole. A single out-of-place word has the power to sink a poem, where in prose it might pass unnoticed or seem just a little clunky. Strangely enough, despite the high regard I have for poetry, most of my poetry reading is conducted not from a podium or reclining in a French love seat while smoking a fragrant slim cigar and wearing long white gloves, but in the loo—small windows of time being the best way to me to enjoy poetry.

Several years ago I invested in a several copies of “Poem a Day” books. I keep one on the shelf in each loo in the house, and I have one near my bed. Several other volumes take pride of place among my “toilet books.” They include such classics as Keats, Yeats, Pope and Byron, Shelley, AB Paterson, Henry Kendall, but some of my favourites are more modern: cummings, Kinnell, Sexton, Lowell, MacNeice, Dawe, Larkin and Akhmatova. Often, the poem for that day reflects my mood or speaks to me of something going on in my life, in a kind of telling bibliomancy, but more than that, they remind me every day how beautiful words can be. How profound thoughts can be. And how imaginative life can be.

A book is a commitment. It is marriage. It may become tedious and yet the reader shuffles on to the dreary, prolonged end. A poem is a quick, dirty, exciting fling. It is a whisper in a corridor. A sly glance that leaves a lingering desire for more. Whenever I read a poem (even in the toilet!) I am reminded how fleeting life is, how ephemeral love can be and yet, in poetry, I have discovered a love I know will last a lifetime.

Karin Cox is an editor and author, who recently released her poetry anthology Growth, comprising several of her previously published poems and some that have never been published. If you would like to review it, please email her on  You can learn more about Karin's other work at

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest appearances and gastro

With a bout of illness, an edit to finish, a cuddle-hungry wee one, and some guest blogs and other odds and sods to complete this week, it hasn't left me much time for blogging.

However, you can catch me waxing lyrical about Editing for Self-publishers over on Danielle Blanchard's blog The Beautiful People.

Also, look out for some guest blogs coming to this blog over the coming weeks as I try to give myself some time off now and then to work on my novel.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The power of connection

Yesterday several people read this fledgling blog and shared my “Indie publishing: perspectives on abundance” post with others. I was thrilled, and it got me thinking about the power of words and how we use them to connect both thoughts and relationships.

Words have so many purposes, but, for me, the real reason for writing, and the true power of words, comes in connection. If I can make a reader relate to my words and connect with them, to the extent that they feel something, be it joy, wonder, nostalgia, humour, surprise or fright, then I am satisfied. Generally speaking, I’d prefer my readers felt, joy, wonder or humour than anger, disgust or disdain, but when writing fiction I know it is my job to make them experience the gamut of emotions so they can live vicariously through my characters and empathize with them. It is harder, in my experience, to coax a tear than it is to conjure up a smile, so making a reader connect enough that they will cry for a character, or for a concept, is a talent indeed.

Yesterday I read a post by Cheryl Shireman that made me weep. It untapped a well of emotion in me partly because of its subject matter, and partly because it was so beautifully, honestly written. It made me stop and think about my life and how my desire to fit so much into every day, and to connect with others through my writing and through social networking, may have been compromising the one connection I hold most dear: my relationship with my baby daughter.

Sure, I do most of my work when she is sweetly sleeping, her little lips drawn up into a slightly parted cupid’s bow, tiny eyelashes shadowing a flushed cheek, and dainty little baby snores floating up from her port-a-cot at my feet, but at other times, times when I’m balancing her on my shoulder while I blog, or jiggling her bouncer with one foot while I edit, I feel guilty about multitasking. I feel guilty for being out there in the world (however virtually) when in truth my world is right here gazing adoringly at me. Right now.

Sometimes, even if I need just two minutes to finish an email, I force myself to stop. I step away from the laptop, and I devote my attention to a little heart that needs a hug.  My writing will always be there, but she will not always be this tiny, this vulnerable or this much “mine.” The world, with it’s many connections, will one day take her away from me. Perhaps not far—maybe just to playgroup, to school, to ballet, to pajama parties, to university, to a nearby suburb, to another city … but maybe to Europe, to Africa, or to America. God forbid circumstances ever lead her to places where I cannot follow. Who knows where her connections will one day take her, but for now her major point of connection is me.

I know my success as an author, as an editor, even as a friend, comes through making those external connections, but my success as a mother comes from putting this, dearest of all connections, above all others. So while I’m thankful that the internet allows me an untold number of ways to connect with others worldwide, I also know that each thread can unravel to another, and then another, until it seems almost impossible to escape the labyrinthine web even when there are other things to do or the one hour I’ve allotted for networking has slipped away.

Online connections are all well and good, but to maintain a real connection with his or her audience, a writer needs to spend time in the real world. Time sipping coffee. Time chatting with friends. Time helping an old man at the post office struggle with a large box, and time wondering what it holds. Time sleeping. Time reading. Time cuddling babies. Time making babies. And, most importantly, time writing. How else can a writer really connect with the minds of his or her readers?

For that reason, for the next week I’m checking my facebook, twitter and forums for strictly half an hour each morning so I can concentrate on two of my most important connections: my family, and my writing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Indie publishing: perspectives on abundance

Last night I was all prepared to write today’s blog post about how to use commas effectively. The comma topic was prompted by a discussion on another blog, and I know that these pesky punctuation marks can cause headaches for even professional authors at times, so I figured I would add my two eggs to the mix. However, late last night, or, rather, at 1.24 in the morning to be precise (yes, like the majority of writers, I am an incurable night owl), as I checked for new posts on Indie Writers Unite Facebook page, I had a change of heart and decided to take an entirely different tack today.

Before I begin, let me tell you that I am not a big fan of inspirational, NLP, feel-good or "how to" manuals that deal with the subjects of eternal happiness, staying positive, time-management, success, or acquiring wealth or inner peace a la The Secret.

To me, most smack of slightly self-righteous high-fivin’ marketers turned authors profiteering from stating the bleeding obvious (You are responsible for your own happiness—well, duh!) or snake oil sellers peddling hocus pocus. It’s safe to say that the only “how to” guides on my shelf are about writing, editing and publishing, along with a brick-sized tome on DIY home renovation. That is, I’m a pragmatic, rather sceptical sort who doesn’t really spend too much time dwelling on what “the universe” owes me or might promise me. I am a “go out there and pinch the universe on the bum and see how it reacts” type of gal.

However, many years ago I remember being forced to read something, as part of a publishing/marketing position I held at the time, that dealt with the concept of “abundance”. To be truthful, I can’t even remember the name of the book, but subliminally it must have impressed something upon me because last night it popped into my head.

What struck me—and, let’s face it, it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise given the verb in the name of that facebook page—was the difference in attitude and in altruism between self-published or “indie” authors and traditionally published authors, and how approaching publishing with an attitude of abundance, rather than of paucity, makes a massive difference in author happiness. What I have discovered is that, because anyone can now publish and become an independent author, the mindset and the buzz around self-publishing is largely positive, in contrast with the negativity that has traditionally dogged the trade publishing industry.

Now, I am a trade-published author too (if you "count" non-fiction, children's/YA books and creative non-fiction, and let me tell you I've met some who turn up their literary little noses at these genres) and I’ve met hundreds of delightful, clever and generous published authors in my time in the industry. I’ve edited for many, and I’ve hobnobbed, latte-sipped, champagne-fluted, workshopped and industry-evented with others for more than a decade. Many of these authors repeatedly go out of their way to assist new writers, to act as mentors and to help promote others work, bless them. So let me make it clear that I am in no way casting aspersions on traditionally published authors. However, the problem with traditional publishing, to my mind, is that it has always operated on a platform of exclusivity and elitism. In some ways that can provide a remarkable sense of achievement, which is wonderful for published authors. A feeling of "I've arrived" (usually followed by a long and frightening pause then a panic of "where to now, and please point me to the bathroom").

In the traditionally published world (let's call it the "scarcity model") for every manuscript accepted by a big publisher or represented by an agent, hundreds more receive a big fat rejection letter. For every wriggling, squawking, naked newborn author success story hauled screaming from the slushpile, thousands more sank below the sludgy surface without a trace. Every author who was picked up represented one more of the coveted publishing “spots” denied to another author. Every book published was just another demand on a publishing house’s marketing staff. Every single new release became a competitor for shelf space in bookstores, another shark circling in the sea of words. In some circles, anything less than publishing award-winning literary fiction was small fry or didn’t count. “Oh so you publish non-fiction?” Cue eyebrow raise. “You won a short story contest?” Brow wrinkle. “You write for children.” Careful snigger partially concealed by a sip of Chardonnay.

Now perhaps I’m playing up the comparison for the sake of being Devil's advocate, and, as I said, many trade-published authors, recognising how damn hard it is to get a publishing contract, are lovely, caring, talented and supportive folk. But the thing I’ve noticed about indie publishing is just how perkily encouraging everyone seems to be. "Yeah. Way to go. You can do it!" They chant. I can tell they aren’t just saying it; they really mean it. And what is more, now it is true. You can do it. I can do it. Anyone can do it. Does that lessen the "special" effect—the experience of arrival? That depends on how you look at it.

Let me also qualify this by saying that I am hardly a seasoned indie publisher. Many years ago, when I was a  green willowy sapling of an editor (at least that's how I like to remember my slimmer 24-year-old self) first trying my hand at freelancing, I helped several authors “self-publish”—a task that involved negotiating printer quotes and contracts, recommending and briefing cover designers, providing editorial services and generally project managing and dodging landmines on behalf of authors wanting to self-publish. I’ve been watching the self-publishing “market” grow for a decade since then, taking the occasional sneak peek at self-published products, noting the emergence of Lulu, Bookpal, Createspace and PoD and then the explosion of independent e-books. And, just this week I uploaded my first self-published book, Growth (a poetry anthology), on smashwords.

Since then, the indie writers I have connected with on twitter, facebook and other sites have been overwhelmingly welcoming and encouraging. Few hold themselves up to be paragons of teeth-grinding hardwork or publishing martyrdom (although there are few bitter and twisted individuals who castigate agents, editors and publishers alike) and they don’t necessarily clothe themselves in the thick skin of those suffering years of patience and rejection. They freely and openly champion the simple courage of putting your work out there—out where its merits alone will determine whether it sells or fails and whether it fullfils publishing dreams or leaves its creator feeling deflated.

It’s a marketplace of sheer abundance. “Come one, come all and the more they merrier,” they chorus, and I for one, find that a very merry proposition indeed. An abundance of words. An abundance of authors making money, however small, out of writing. An abundance of productivity. An abundance of encouragement. I ask you, what’s not to like?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I Haven't Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 months ... Yet

This morning a new twitter follower who runs a blog called Extremely Average sent me a link to his review of John Locke’s new eBook, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. I shelled out the $4.99 for this eBook several days ago, after a recommendation from David Gaughran over at Indie Publishing for International Authors. (If you’re not subscribed to David’s blog, you need to be! And watch out for an eBook version detailing Dave’s digital experience soon to be released). I finished reading Locke’s eBook sometime afterward, at about two in the morning. (I have reclaimed the wee hours of the morning as “me” time). Both reviews said Locke’s eBook was worth the $4.99, even though there is, in fact, rather little in it that they weren’t already doing. I can only agree with them.

While the eBook won’t offer a lot of tips for the canny “Authorpreneur” who is already utilising social networking and online marketing to move books off the virtual shelves, it was worth the $4.99 and, if nothing else, is an interesting insight to Locke’s success.

Written in the somewhat circumlocutory stye common to copywriting and marketing, Locke’s book shows why he is such a success, which probably has more to do with his marketing genius than writing skills alone—a point he makes himself rather self-deprecatingly.

I won’t tell you what his mind-blowing secret to success is—suffice it to say that the build-up is rather more interesting than the “big reveal” itself—but I will tell you that he does two things very effectively that big traditional publishing houses should take note of.

The first is simple and something every writer must do: know your audience.

The second is a little more time-consuming but equally as important: connect with them personally.

In my experience, “big” publishing is notoriously bad at doing either of these things. “Genre” you see is different from “knowing your audience”, which is more about understanding the demographics of your intended readers. What do they like? What are their hobbies? Where do they shop? Where do they eat? Most importantly: what do they want? And, even more importantly, how can you give them what they like and what they want in a place where they shop.

Traditional publishers tend to focus more on whether a particular genre sells well, where it sits in the store and the look and feel of a  piece. While getting the cover right, the length right and the price right is part of knowing an audience, it is not the only part. Few publishers truly do extensive marketing research and that Locke thinks about his audience even before he puts fingers to keyboard is a telling part of his success.

Mind you, sometimes publishers get lucky. A case in point is the Stephanie Meyer Twilight Series. Is it fabulous writing? I don’t believe so. Yet it garnered many millions of fans and, quite frankly, I’d swap paypackets with Meyer anyday. It did so because Meyer knows her audience and she gives them what they want: teenage angst, a rather insipid everyday heroine, romance, a choice of two hot "boys" (who just happen to be supernatural), and a simple read that doesn’t tax their vocabulary while getting them hot under the collar without overt eroticism or even any sex scenes at all (who'd have thunk it?). Timing, with a vampire genre that hadn’t seen such success since Anne Rice, also probably had something to do with her success. Charlaine Harris's much better-written (imo) Southern Vampire series also tapped into that subject area.

Traditional publishers, at least from what I have seen, also tend to promote the author, but rarely promote a true one-on-one personal connection with the work or the author, outside of book signing events. Self-promotion using social networking,  on the other hand, now allows for fans to connect directly with authors and forge a personal connection, and that connection is gold … quite literally in Locke’s case. Responding personally to fans takes time. In fact, marketing takes time. Locke may have made 1 million in just five months, but he has put an awful lot of work into getting there, and much of that has been in marketing.

Late last year I went to a seminar run by IF:book Australia where Kate Eltham and Richard Nash mentioned that, where in the past “content was king” in today’s publishing word “connection is king”. People want to connect with their favourite authors without the middleman of a publisher and self-publishing and social networking are allowing them to do that.

I can see that Locke’s book is going to be useful and  inspiring for lots of authors seeking self-publishing success. My only caution would be that it is important for authors to ensure they spend as much time making a reader like their book as they do making a reader want to buy their book. What I mean by this is that, while excellent marketing and business skills (which appear to be the common denominator in the success of many best-selling series) can take a good book and make it  great, even they can’t take turn a turd into a treasure. Good, preferably great, writing AND proactive marketing skills are both necessary to make it in the new world of self-publishing.

So until I feel that my novel is the absolute best it can be and will totally flabbergast readers, it won't be going up on Smashwords or Amazon, but perhaps, one day, it will.

Visit Karin's website at for some great writing tips and to see more samples of her work. She also has a poetry anthology available on smashwords.