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.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why I Was Wrong About eBooks

Several years ago, my colleagues and I at a small, independent publishing company gathered in our conference room to discuss, with some trepidation, the state of the publishing industry and the likely effect emerging eReaders and tablets would have on sales.

We all recognised that a revolution was starting. We all wondered what would happen to our jobs and livelihood, and many of us, like myself, were even mildly excited about the possibilities the new technology offered. As an editor, eBooks could be seen to have presented a real threat to me and my profession, and to some degree they do, but, as an author, being able to publish directly to a large, technology-driven readership was a prospect that piqued my interest. However, at our meeting, after much deliberation, senior management concluded that, although eBooks were coming, they weren’t coming just yet and wouldn’t present a threat to our industry or to printed book sales for many years to come. Fast forward to 2011 and the collapse of Angus and Robertson and Borders, among the largest players in the book retail industry in Australia, and it is clear for all to see how wrong they were. How wrong we were.

Several reasons they believed eBooks wouldn’t challenge traditional printed books, and certainly not to the level suggested by hot-headed media commentators at the time, were thrown around:

(1)    People love to browse bookshops. Bookstores, with their paper-smelling stacks of shelves dotted with engaging “wobblers”, and watched over by turtleneck-wearing, bespectacled booklovers, are where the crème de la crème of intellectuals gather to sip lattes and fawn over the newest releases.

(2)    The smell of books. Oh, that heady scent of pulped paper liberally poured over with carbon black, titanium dioxide and wax. (This is one of the biggest reasons proponents of the printed book give for sticking to tangible books over eBooks.)

(3)    No-one wants to read on-screen; it’s too much like work and too hard on the eyes.

(4)    Who wants to read an eBook in bed (where a lot of booklovers do their reading) or in the bath?

(5)    People like collecting books. They like having bookshelves filled with books that reflect their personal tastes and make them look clever.

(6)    You own a printed book and can share it with friends or give it away. You can’t do that with an eBook which is actually only licensed to you.

(7)    The Australian market for iPads, Kindles, Nooks, MobiPockets and other eReaders is still far from saturated.

What I now know is that none of these reasons was ever going to halt the advance of eBooks and their steady encroachment on traditional publishing. I know this because last night, I—me, book editor and publishing professional of 14 years, avid reader, collector of books—popped my iPhone4 into a ziplock plastic bag and took it with me to the bathroom, where I spent an hour luxuriating and reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage. (Editing aside, I do much of my reading in the bath—always have.) For the past few years I have kidded myself that electronic devices and bathwater are arch-enemies. Not so. Cue the tiny ziplock bag and rubber iPhone case and reading in the bath has now “gone digital” remarkably easily.

Since I have had the iPhone4, a little over four months, I have bought several eBooks, usually paying $4.99 or less. Titles I have picked up are largely work-related (grammar guides and how-tos) but I have also purchased several novels and short story collections and downloaded a lot of free apps and eBooks. Admittedly I haven’t yet shelled out the $9.99 to buy an eBook version of a bestselling paperback novel, but I am sure that time will come.

So why the change? Why would I, a devout printed booklover, turn so easily? The answer is convenience. Other circumstances, such as having a baby, no doubt hastened my conversion to eBook reading—after all, it is much easier to read on an iPhone while holding a sleeping baby than it is to read a hardcover or paperback book, which requires two hands. Pregnancy related apps on the iPhone, which link to websites that cover a range of pregnancy questions probably helped initiate me into reading onscreen on the iPhone. So perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, but I now believe that none of the points above would ever have remained important enough to stop me going digital eventually. Let’s look at them in detail again:

1.    Bookshops are fine if you’ve got time to browse the stacks. But when you’re a busy mum trying to fit in writing, house cleaning, shopping, socialising, writing and freelancing, finding the time to sip lattes at your local bookstore is just about impossible. Kindle and other apps on the iPhone allow me to see what’s new and keep in touch with latest releases without having to change out of my spit-up covered pjs (Ah yes, it’s a glamorous job, editing. Luckily most of the manuscripts I see don’t make me spit up too much ;-)

2.    The smell of books is one of the most commonly repeated reasons for not converting to eBooks, but really? I mean, really? How many dedicated book sniffers do you know? And anyway, most of my books smell like mould from being … dropped in the bath … or being thumbed through with wet, soapy fingers. Several smell like wine and some may even smell like cheese, these being my two favourite things to put in my mouth when reading (with the exception of the end of a red pen and sometimes a partially loaded gun when editing). Smell is clearly not a reason to swear off eBooks forever. 

3.    While it isn’t quite the same as reading on paper, reading on a small screen isn't that bad. Plus, all editors will tell you that it is harder to pick up errors on-screen than it is on hardcopy, which is perhaps a blessing given the state of the grammar and punctuation in some self-published eBooks whose authors haven't bothered hiring an editor! But I digress. What I have found is that the illuminated screen means I can now read in bed without eliciting whines of: “It’s 1 a.m., for God’s sake turn the light off, Kaz!” from my long-suffering, non-reading partner. Also the lit-up screen makes a great torch to guide my way to my wailing infant’s nursery at 4 am for her early morning feed and nappy change and if I’m feeling particularly naughty and manage to switch off the mummy guilt for a second I can even read while I nurse. (Bad mummy, bad!)

4.    So, that’s reading in bed/nursing already partly covered. It’s actually far more comfortable to read lying down holding a slim smart phone or eReader than it is holding a heavy hardcover or thick paperback. Plus, if you’re nifty, you can do it one handed, leaving your other hand free for reassuringly hugging your partner and pretending you’re asleep, or whatever else you might want to do. (I can see this being a real boon for dedicated readers of erotic fiction, but let's not go there). Surprisingly, reading in the bath is also easier on an iPhone, providing you take precautions. The touch screen and scrolling worked just fine through a “zippy” and being able to read one-handed meant I could shave my legs at the same time. (Kids: don’t try this at home. Having a child has made me a masterful multitasker, but nicks from safety razors still sting).

5.    I have been one of those “never throw away a book” people my entire life, until recently. When we bought our own home a few years back and I had to move box after backbreaking box of books in, including Greek Democracy and Politics in Early Athens and other such gems that were required reading for the Ancient History strand of my degree, I had a change of heart. Out went the textbooks I acquired in university. Out went the books I never got around to reading. Out went anything that didn’t live up to my expectations. Having said that, I still have hundreds of books, so many that I have no more bookshelf room. My new role as mum and the lack of a second income has put a partial ban on book buying outside of St Vinnies or charity shops, and my partner has put a total ban on buying any more bookshelves. So I either have to be extremely selective about what I purchase and maintain a stringent door policy of “one comes in one goes out” or I turn to eBooks, where my options are limited only by my finances and the amount of memory left on my phone.

6.    Yes you can lend a book to your friends, but, really, I don’t advise it. Nine times out of ten whenever I have lent out a book it has never been seen again. So you don’t own the eBook that sits on your eReader or iPhone, big deal. You also pay considerably less for it (particularly in Australia) than you do for the privilege of owning a printed edition … and you don’t have to find shelf space for it either. You can recommend it to all and sundry by writing a review, and you can still recommend it to your friends and help spread the word and support the industry.

7.    It is true that eReaders haven’t lived up to their anticipated potential in Australia. I don’t have one because I have a laptop and an iPhone and I’m not sure how much the iPad or Kindle or some other eReader would make a difference to my habits. But almost everyone has a smartphone that enables them to read eBooks and with ever more affordable eReaders and more and more eBooks hitting the virtual shelves every day, surely this will fast change. Not only that, but the publishing marketplace is more global than ever before, meaning that publishers (both traditional and self-) from around the globe can cheaply and easily make books available to readers worldwide. Publishers and authors should be looking at the global market for eReaders, rather than being too parochial and taking into account only local sales.

When I look back on it, I think the reason that we were easily persuaded and placated by senior management back then in the mid-to-late 2000s was not that we didn’t believe eBooks would be big, but that we didn’t want to believe it. Even today some publishers and publishing professionals still have their noses stuck in a traditional printed book and refuse to remove their rose-coloured reading glasses to see the screens lighting up all around them.

As an author, I’m pleased to say I was wrong, because the eBook revolution is offering authors much more creative freedom than traditional publishers ever have. As an editor, I’m pleased because I’ve seen how the ease and affordability of e-publishing has allowed self-published authors to finally begin to be more professional and channel their “start-up” costs into getting expert editing and cover design, rather than putting it all into the exorbitant cost of printing. As a reader I’m even more pleased, because anything that provides me with a convenient and simple way to access written information while juggling my other daily tasks is, quite simply, a godsend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mistakes New Writers Make: Confusing "Novelist" with "Playwright"

As an editor, I’m often asked what is the  mostcommon mistake made by new writers. For me, several things typify a novice writer, and I’ve found these errors vary little, even regardless of the genre an author might be attempting to write in. So in a series of ongoing blog posts I thought I’d elaborate. Today’s post is probably the most common thing I see when appraising manuscripts by first-time novelists—confusing writing a novel with writing a play or a movie script.

While I call it “writing a script not a novel”, other editors and experienced authors call this “telling not showing”—a phrase often bandied around on writing message boards. It’s not uncommon for a first-time author to attempt to imagine events unravelling then depict them on paper just as if they were watching a movie. That can be a good thing, as it means that an author’s characters are alive (at least to them); however, it very often translates into writing that reads like a script and makes characters and settings seem wooden or forced.

Sometimes, the use of present tense makes this error glaringly obvious; other times extended paragraphs of setting are a giveaway. Whenever you see a sentence that starts with “There is…” that is usually an indicator that you’re writing a scene for a movie and not a scene for a novel. For example:

Joel walks into the room. He sees a long black coffee table with three patterned, coffee-filled mugs on it and a yellow sofa with a fluffy cushion. The room is only about two metres long by three metres wide and so dimly lit he can barely see the tall, blonde, long-legged girl stretched out on the sofa. She is brown-skinned with green eyes and appears to be wearing some kind of tutu and twirling a strand of her yellow hair around her slim index finger. There is a guitar propped on the floor next to the coffee table which she moves out of the way to stand.
“Hello,” she says seductively to him. “You must be the new flatmate.”

See what’s happening here? There are some other very obvious issues aside from the “script style” stage directing (misplaced modifiers, unnecessary description, adverbs in dialogue tags etc), but you get my drift. Now compare the above paragraph with:

Joel’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light in the tiny living room; when they did, he could just make out the long-limbed, tanned form of a girl stretched out on the yellow sofa. She cradled a half-full coffee mug in her right hand; in the other, she twirled a strand of her long blonde hair seductively. Joel noticed with intrigue that she appeared to be wearing some kind of tutu.
“Hello,” she said, moving a guitar, which was propped against the coffee table, out of the way so she could stand. “You must be the new flatmate.” Her green eyes studied him intently.

As you can see, the basic gist of the second paragraph is the same. Most of the elements are there, with the exception of some that are unnecessary. Do we really need to know, for instance, that the mugs are patterned or that the cushion is fluffy (or even that it is there at all if it doesn’t play a significant role in the story). The difference is that some of the action is woven in around the dialogue, and the scene setting occurs within the frame of that action (Joel entering the room, the girl cradling a coffee mug, Joel noticing with intrigue, the girl moving a guitar and standing etc). Some of the “props” (such as the coffee cups) also now have actions (in the form of verbs) attached to them rather than just being static nouns in a room.

I think new authors sometimes feel the need to over-describe like this because they believe it will help create a picture in the reader’s mind and make a scene authentic, but  it is the characters, rarely the settings, that lend authenticity to a novel. To make characters believable, they generally have to be in action because, as we know, most people don’t just walk into a room and stand around checking out the furniture for minutes. They walk in, glance around and start talking, drinking, eating or whatever it is they are doing.

People are also great multitaskers, so flesh out your settings while having the characters perform actions. When it comes to description and setting, less is usually more and the skilled novel writer finds a way to slip little nuggets of descriptive information in among the action, rather than writing long paragraphs of setting that leave the reader feeling like they’re reading stage directions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing vs Living

Now before you all start thinking, "Gee she wasn't lying. See how quickly she fell off the blogging bandwagon", you should know that I've just spent the last four days in Port Douglas attending a friend's wedding and had no internet access.

I took my laptop with me with the intention of getting some writing done, but the truth is that sometimes writers have to live life in order to write about it.  With the brilliant sunshine and relaxed coastal ambience by day, and fine-dining and a cohort of my partner's work colleagues to socialise with at night, I just didn't get anything done.

Much as I am desperate to finish my various works in progress, the older I get the more I realise that if writing feels like a chore, the best thing to do is set it aside and get on with the task of living.

Over the weekend my 11-week-old daughter delighted us with her first serious giggle (upon seeing a ceiling fan in motion for the first time) and, incredibly, cried for less than 2 minutes on either of the three-hour plane trips we made. My friend and his radiant bride were married in a bushland setting and had their first dance as man and wife barefoot in the dust, lit only by the moon and a string of Chinese lanterns. My partner got a much deserved break from being a breadwinner (and had a hangover to show for it) and I left my laptop in its bag, my camera in its case, my blog unattended, and my mind free to wander whimsically.

I didn't get a word written, but I feel so much more human for it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writer self doubt — we all get it!

A few days ago I promised a blog post a day — a promise that, if I’m truthful, I’m already regretting. I’m one of those writers notorious for not finishing what they started. And not just as a writer, as gym-goer or dieter I face the same problem. My initial burst of enthusiasm gradually dwindles. I’ll start again tomorrow, I tell myself. It’s just a temporary hiatus. But five works in progress (or 10 weeks and 10 kilos) later, I’m still on the bandwagon. So, at the risk of lapsing back into bad habits, I am posting today.

It might not be the most informative post in the world. It may even make you think: “Oh she’s one of those people — those big idea types who never finish anything.” But the thing is, I’m not always like this. As well as trying to find the time to write, I’ve been working as an editor for more than twelve years, working for traditional publishing houses as my day job (as a Senior Editor for the most part but as an inhouse author for the past three years) and spending my weekends and spare time working as a freelance editor, simply because I love it.  As a result, editing the work of others has often taken precedence over finishing my own writing.

When editing, I am extremely deadline driven and relish the excitement of working my way through a manuscript and the thrill that comes with finishing an edit on time and to the best of my ability. I regularly lose myself in a manuscript for hours on end, and I dislike interruptions and actively seek to minimise them. So where is the disconnect? Why am I so appalling at putting in the hard yards to finish my own work? Why am I so easily distracted by every tweet or post that pops up on my iPhone? Why do I sit staring into space cursing myself while my novel limps along? The answer is: I’m too close to my own work to be able to evaluate it successfully and I’m terrified of finishing it, which would mean I have to then subject it to a process that I know, from experience, is nerve-wracking: submitting. 

My editorial training has taught me how to assess and appraise the work of others, how to pedantically mark up botched grammar and punctuation, and how to detect issues with plot, pacing and characterisation. Editing is a critical process that requires a certain kind of cynicism and circumspection, but when it comes to my own work, my critical faculties go into overdrive. Great ideas and interesting premises soon start to appear trite and unoriginal. Every word I write is wrong. And not just wrong, but WRONG! My work, I convince myself, is terrible. As a result I let trivial issues prevent me from writing and I turn instead to something I know I am good at: editing. That I am paid to edit (both as a freelancer and, in the past, for several traditional publishers) validates what I do. My own non-paid fiction writing comes with no such validation. It is subject to the whims of agents and commissioning editors just like any other author’s.

The annoying thing is that, despite my “inner critic,” deep down I know I can write. When not on maternity leave, I work as a non-fiction inhouse author and I’ve been paid good money to write more than 28 books — a luxury I am very grateful for. I’ve created funny engaging storybooks for children, travel guides, natural history books and coffee table books for adults. I’ve sold lots of books. I've won awards. I’ve been well reviewed. I can write. What I can’t do is give myself a break.

I am my own worst critic. My worst enemy. The attention to detail and commitment to “getting it right” that make me a good editor distract me as an author. They prevent me from simply sitting and writing and worrying about the technicalities later. They make me go off on tangents and research a minor historical event for hours to ensure I have my facts straight. They send me scurrying off to compare points of style between the Chicago Manual of Style, AP and Snooks & Co. They force me to go back and reread my entire manuscript again every time I have let it go untended for weeks, which invariably leads to more line edits and fewer words added to the manuscript that day.

I need larger blocks of time, I tell myself (and that is partly true). I need the money that freelancing brings in, I tell myself (again, partly true). But the real truth is: I need to stop procrastinating and making excuses — whether valid ones or those based on the low self-esteem that plagues many writers.  Above all else, I just need to just shut the hell up and do it, even if I have only 10 minutes, even if what I write tonight is less than perfect. I'm sure this blog even operates as a procrastination at times! And with that, I’m off to write. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DIY Red Flags for Self-publishing

Debate, some quite vitriolic, has been raging for years on public writing boards over whether self-published authors can call themselves “authors” in the true sense of the word and whether or not self-publishing is a death sentence for a writer’s career or a stepping stone.

As an editor who has spent most of her working life as a lackey for traditional book publishers  — and therefore, I suppose, part of the so-called “gatekeeper” set, although I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper but a reader’s advocate — I still feel that, in most cases, traditional publishing has a better track record of producing a quality, marketable product, largely because publishers follow stringent procedures and have a chain of trained staff available to polish, sell and distribute a book. However, the recent upswing in professional authors turning away from contracts with bigger publishers to go it alone in the self-published eBook wilderness is gradually increasing the profile of the self-published eBook, which can only be a good thing for authors wanting to e-publish themselves.

As Joe Konrath’s, Cory Doctorow’s, John Locke’s and Amanda Hocking’s success will convince you, there are now many talented self-published authors who have a commitment to quality and are producing and promoting their own work to great success. I say good on them. Some of the most dedicated self-published authors have  amassed millions of fans. They put in the hard yards, they promote tirelessly, they believe in themselves without being inflated with self-importance, and they wholeheartedly deserve their success. I admire them for being entrepreneurial. But there are many more who rush a badly written book through Lulu or Bookpal, or put out an unedited, poorly formatted or just plain rubbish eBook without any of the vetting procedures used by traditional publishing companies. These books are full of errors, often have insanely implausible plots or very dull characters who go nowhere and do little, and contain gaping plot holes. The authors of such titles, puffed up with hubris and the belief they’re going to make a million, buy into the lie that they don’t need an editor, cover designer or anyone else because their work is that good and it’s that easy. Unfortunately, they spoil things for new self-published authors still seeking an audience because they lower the standard of self-published books and, therefore, the price people are willing to pay for them. Thankfully, the cream will still float to the top and the crap to the bottom, but it’s still a long wade through the mediocre milk to find the sweet spot.

I wouldn’t discourage any author from self-publishing if that is the option they feel will best meet their needs and they are prepared to critically assess their work first, hire an editor and a cover designer, and publicize and promote their work themselves, which can be time consuming. However, here are a few red flags I believe indicate an author is not really ready to be published (traditionally or otherwise).

You are not ready to self-publish if you only want to because:

(a) Stupid evil agents, editors and publishers, what do they know? Who died and made them gatekeepers? Most of them are failed writers. They wouldn’t know a good book if they see it! They published Stephanie Meyer, HA! What a crock of sh*t. Readers are stupid too. I know more than they do, all of them, so I’m going to self-publish. RED FLAG.

(b) I don’t want anyone touching my prefect work. I’ve been ofer it an thousand times. My work is 100% cleen. I am an ecellent self-editor and my grammar is wonderfully. I donut need anyone changing a singal word. Whenever I’ve let any one look at it they’ve changed things and MADE it WORST. I had my mother read it and she loved it and said it was 100% perfekt. RED FLAG.

(c) Why should I give part of my hard-earned to greedy publishers when I can make a FORTUNE, a FORTUNE I tell you out of self-publishing!!!! [Emphasis added] I tell you there is NO other book out there in the world like this book! This book has it all— vampires, good cops, bad cops, romance, psychopaths, sex scenes, unicorns, wizards, kung fu artists, dragons and a plot based on major world themes of war, corruption, redemption and transcendence. It’s timeless. Readers who like Tolkien, Meyers, Rowling, Harris, Patterson, Connelly, Doctorow, Banks, Courtenay, Ben Elton and Dame Barbara Cartland will LOVE this book. I reckon I can sell 500,000 of this book in the first few days. Just you sit back and watch me become a billionaire, b*tches. RED FLAG. Major RED FLAG.

(d) I need money fast. Real fast. They’re going to break my kneecaps if I can’t come up with three grand by next Wednesday and my luck on the geegees is well down. Damn! But I know detective mysteries. How long do you reckon it takes to write a book about a famous racehorse that gets assassinated by a ruthless bookie and a PI on the case — a week or two while I’m laid up with broken knees? Easy. If I can just sell 30,00 of these babies for 99c each I’m back in the black. Hit “Publish”! RED FLAG.

If you genuinely feel that you have a polished manuscript and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to gain representation — and by that I mean not that you’ve waited around for years, but that you’ve sent it out to a few agents or publishers and taken on board feedback from beta readers or writing groups at least— and you know you are prepared to put in the hard yards and spend some of your own money to make your book the best it can be by hiring a cover designer and editor and self-promoting your work, then by all means go for it. I’d highly recommend self-publishing and eBook publishing for publishing poetry, short stories and some popular non-fiction (for example, books on how to care for a baby, running a successful home-based business, herbal beauty products or whatever).

Ultimately, whether traditional publishing or self-publishing is best for you depends on your publishing dreams. If you just want to see your book in print or for sale and pitch it to family and friends before you die, by all means, do it. Don’t sit around getting disgruntled and becoming one of those authors mentioned in (a). But if you know that writing is hard work but you do it because you love it and you know you’re good at it, and one day you’re hopeful you will have success (however limited, but you hope for big things), then keep on submitting to publishers and good luck to you. I wouldn’t rule out using self-publishing or traditional publishing. It all depends on your aims.

As I am already a traditionally published author, perhaps my view is a little different, but I would publish poetry, shorts and some non-fiction myself as eBooks, and plan to do so as an exercise in having “options” if nothing else. However, at this point I would still prefer to send my novels to a traditional publisher and cross my fingers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Maternity Leave Multitasking — Finding Time to Write

Before I went on maternity leave it was suggested to me that, as a first-time mum, I may have been overestimating the amount of spare time I would have to spend on creative pursuits while on leave. “Ha!” I scoffed, imagining at least four-and-a-half months of what seemed to be “free time” stretching before me. I anticipated being able to write a blog post a day, work on my interactive social history project to pitch to the national library, knock off another couple of kids books, tap out a few magazine articles, submit some queries for finally completed works still languishing in my top drawer, and finish my long-overdue YA apocalyptic novel.

But first on the list were a few “housekeeping” items, such as learning how to animate using Adobe Flash or, better yet, how to create my own simple “apps” using the new CS Flash 5.5 once released. I also planned to convert some poetry, short stories and out of copyright content to eBooks for various platforms — as a kind of eBook sales experiment — and put them up on Amazon’s Kindle store and the Apple iStore. Then there was painting the downstairs granny flat, sanding the tricksy corners of the kitchen floor that were newly exposed after our recent kitchen renovation, and re-tiling the upstairs toilet. 

I’m sure it doesn’t take a genius to figure out just how many of these pipe dreams have since fallen by the wayside. If the lack of recent blog posts is anything to go by, just about all of them!

Now, not to make it sound like my child is a nightmare and I never get anything done —that is far from true. She is, for the most part, an angel. I have whiled away numerous lazy hours baby gazing; nappy changing; feeding her; playing with her; crying; cooing at her; showing her off to other people; sticking my fingers in my ears and going la-la-la-la while she screamed inconsolably for no reason; marvelling at her genius, beauty and sheer fabulousness; wiping the baby spew off my clothes; and just generally being “mum-ish”. 

On top of my new role, I have also managed to work on several paid editing assignments and manuscript appraisals, had a very talented musician set one of my children's poems to music to perform in schools (you can listen to it here as a sneak peek — just click on the little arrow below the cover) and wasted more than my fair share of time tweeting and facebooking (it being easier to do that one-handed on an iPhone than, say, write my magnus opum by three-finger typing on a laptop while balancing a hungry, squirming baby on my left breast). So the lack of free time to work on my own blog posts and creative endeavors is partly a result of my poor time management and my desire to minimise the mummy guilt and enjoy my little darling's first months. Having said that, two and a half months into motherhood I still find myself dreaming that I will eventually discover a rabbithole that will lead to several hours of uninterrupted  creative time (or, if not that magical rabbithole then at least a large bottle of gin labelled "drink me").

While working on the edits, I have been gobsmacked by (and more than a little envious of) some wonderfully entrepreneurial young authors who are embracing new media with fervour and seemingly have discovered that elusive rabbithole and have found the time to do a lot of the things I want to do — things I keep telling tell myself I will do eventually. Not only have they been doing this courageously, they've been doing it transparently, which makes it all the more interesting.

One of them, an Irish writer living in Sweden, David Gaughran, has just published his first eBook compilation of short stories, which hovered at rank 50 on Amazon shortly after release (up there with big-name authors like Stephen King) and is documenting his e-publishing journey on his blog (and managing to find the time to blog daily, lucky him). Those of you who are considering self-publishing eBooks should certainly check out his very informative blog Indie Publishing for International Writers, which has some great tips, advice and encouragement for “newbie” authors wading into eBook publishing.

Meanwhile, despite my patchy commitment to my blog of late, I’ve been asked to do a guest post over on Women Writers  later this month, and will direct followers to that when it happens sometime the week after next. As a result of that invitation — and now that the Dear Little Monkey is starting to be able to amuse herself for at least half an hour a day — I’m trying to get organised, get creative and get back into blogging and writing. If you are glad to see me back to my wicked writing ways, please spread the word as I continue to post, and forward or retweet anything you see here that takes your fancy. I promise to try harder this time! ☺