Tag Archives: writing

My Top Five Tips when asking bloggers to review your book

Most authors know that approaching bloggers to review their new book is a great way to drum up some free publicity that gives their book a word-of-mouth popularity, but when it comes to approaching blog authors, their emails can be very hit and miss. Based on the emails I receive every day, here are my top five tips to help authors with traditional presses and self-published authors achieve a higher response rate when approaching bloggers about their books.

 

Tip Number 1 – Check the blog’s reviewing policy

I wrote my reviewing policy so that anyone who asks me to review their book knows exactly what to expect when dealing with me – I don’t do paid reviews, I won’t mince my words, I don’t guarantee a review for books that were just blah  and I don’t review self-published novels. I’d say roughly half of the emails I receive asking me to review books are from self-published authors who haven’t spent the time familiarizing themselves with my reviewing policy beyond lifting my email address from it. If their book looks interesting and I know of another blogger who would review, I will try to link them up, but more often than not I have to delete their email without replying.

 

Tip Number 2 – Personalize your emails

No address is just rude, Dear Blogger is a bit annoying. If you’re taking the time to email bloggers, don’t send a clearly mass email in the hope that someone is going to commit at least three hours to reading your book and writing a considered review. Dear Book and Biscuit is acceptable, but most bloggers will have their name in their About Me section, and they won’t mind you using it.

 

Tip Number 3 – Build relationships

Bloggers can be really busy people. I work and have a toddler. Lots of other bloggers do too, or have other really time intensive commitments. If I’m pushed for time and declining reviews, I’m far more likely to make time to review a book by an author or publisher I have an existing relationship with. I doubt I’m the only one who feels like this. Rather than cold email a blogger, take your time to get to know their site, engage with it, comment on their blog, chat with them on social media. It will set you apart from authors who have lifted their contact details from a book reviewers list that many bloggers didn’t opt in to.

 

Tip Number 4 – Use your existing networks

If you’ve written a book, there’s a good chance that you’re a reader too. What existing networks do you have that allow you to reach readers that you’ve already built a relationship with? Do any of those blog, or would they be able to recommend interested bloggers who specialise in your genre? It’s worth reaching out with a personalized email to ask for their help or advice. It seems to me that there can be a lot of ego involved when people start out writing, but the authors I admire and who seem to be really successful are genuinely interested in being part of a community with like minded readers. I guess it’s all part of really understanding your target audience.

 

Tip Number 5 – Don’t pay for reviews

I know that it may seem tempting. And I know that there are unscrupulous sites which tout themselves as blogger networks who will take your money to arrange a blog tour or similar. I found this out when I provided an honest review after another blogger had begged me to as a favour, and the author became very upset because she had paid the other blogger (without my knowledge) and assumed that she had bought a positive review from me. It caused a lot of bad feeling all round. If you put in the work making yourself a part of a reading and writing community, you won’t have to pay for reviews, and you’ll build a more engaged following for it.

 

Fellow bloggers, is there anything else you’d add to this? Authors, what’s worked well in your experience?

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

icon
iconI think that, like me, when asked to name stories by Margaret Atwood, most readers would name some of the impressive body of novels she’s written. This is strange because her short stories are well represented on my bookshelves where Wilderness Tips sit alongside Bluebeard’s Egg and Dancing Girls, and I’ve fleetingly enjoyed the view of the world, recognisable but slantwise, that Atwood presents in these collections as much as any of her novels.

Her recent collection Stone Mattress (the title taken from a short story she originally published in The New Yorker) is no exception to this, and if anything, I enjoyed the stories more for having experienced the timeframe in which they are set because the immediacy of the real world events contrasted with the inherent otherness of Atwood’s writing really amplifies the sense that you often get from her short stories that there’s something else lurking in the shade of the text; another six stories waiting to be told or another perspective which dances behind the wry humour and remains just beyond your reach.

There’s something for fans old and new here, and I especially enjoyed the hints that Margaret Atwood is making merry of her literary reputation contrasting the reception of an unsympathetic literati with that of a pulp fiction writing student desperately trying to make rent and a distracted granny whose coping mechanisms have achieved cult status. Anti-feminists who claim that Atwood is a man-hating bitch will probably be outraged to see that she’s given them something to get their teeth into using a cast of well-loved characters from The Robber Bride, but I imagine she had a twinkle in her eye writing that story.

Quote me on that… JK Rowling, Joanne Harris and backbiting authors

JK Rowling Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

Image adapted from original by user Srslyguys on flickr under CC

Anyone who wondered what JK Rowling could possibly have experienced to inspire her latest novel The Silkworm, a novel full of bitter literary rivalries and backbiting authors, should check out Joanne Harris’ comments as reported by The Telegraph about the Harry Potter series, the bitchy tone of which undermined her otherwise perfectly valid argument about writing being a career which people depend upon for their living.

Edit
Joanne Harris has since contacted me via Twitter to let me know what she actually said is on her Tumblr account here. She will be writing her own article in the same newspaper tomorrow.

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

city of heavenly fire cassandra clareWay back when, I mentioned that I’d started reading Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series and was quite enjoying them. I dutifully worked my way through the various cities (namely, City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls) before realising that City of Heavenly Fire wasn’t due to publish for about another year. Hate it when that happens.

Fast forward a year and I spotted a copy in Tesco while shopping with my father and niece. Readers, I have read it and my thoughts are below- these WILL contain spoilers, you know I normally don’t but there were some very specific points that stuck in my head and I wanted to get these down.

 

*Here Be Spoilers*

On the whole, I enjoyed the book well enough. It has many of the strengths of the previous books in the series, snappy dialogue, beautifully wrought magical worlds and some engaging characters but for me this book went a little bit off the boil and at times felt as though the author was writing fan fiction of her own work.

While Clare’s series standalone, she works characters from other series into her books to maintain the world narrative throughout (something you can do when you have cast of immortals) but in this book, she begins foreshadowing a new series which for me left a chunk of the narrative unresolved. I don’t mind characters being brought in from elsewhere, but when I read the last book in a series I do want to have a sense that the book is finished. Otherwise it feels a bit like a fanfiction hook to get you reading the author’s corpus. I won’t be reading The Dark Artifices on principle.

As I hinted before, there were times when it felt a bit like the author was… fangirling. Nowhere was this more evident for me than in the scene (massive spoiler here) where the Heavenly Fire has left Jace’s body and Jace and Clary have sex for the first time. I felt as though the author seemed overwhelmed by the fact that she’d been building up to this for so long that her writing felt very clichéd and a little too saccharine. It also felt very politically correct to the point that I felt that the characters were lapsing out of character. I get that you have to be very careful writing a sex scene in YA literature because there are so many issues and sensibilities are at stake, so the emphasis on consent in the passage was fine and in keeping with the characters. But the issue of contraception and STD protection is an interesting one (and no, apparently shadowhunters don’t have a rune for that). Shortly before the scene takes place Clary “wished she’d worn something prettier, but it wasn’t like ‘fancy lingerie’ had been on her packing list for the demon realms”.  Reminding us that at this point, the characters are in the midst of hell, awaiting a battle in which there is a very good chance that they will die. And Jace, a reckless character and brilliant strategist who would have been focussed on preparing for the battle with weapons etc has made sure that he’s brought a condom on the off-chance… to hell. Right. Since it was so explicitly brought up (enough to really stand out in the text) it felt really incongruous to me.

But don’t worry, because everything turns out fine in the end. I think this bothered me most. It was as though nothing had ever been at risk. Everyone gets out fine, and Simon who has exchanged his immortality and memories for their freedom gets to be a shadowhunter and regain his memories. Very much like they all lived happily ever after (except Jordan who Maia replaces very quickly with Bat). Maybe I’ve been dabbling too much with Divergent and The Hunger Games, but I don’t think it’s a real battle unless a central character is harmed. I think I would have let Isabelle die from the demon wound and have Simon stay in hell after that. It felt a lot like fan pleasing at the expense of a story, but I can see that I’m not the primary market.

On the whole, an enjoyable enough read but a bit too neat and sterile for my liking.

Quote me on that… the power of words

Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.

Adapted using a background from Tim_in_Ohio

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of The Wind is a brilliant work of fiction and is infinitely quotable but I especially love this quote about the power of words. If you haven’t read it, you should get hold of a copy today.

The New Face of Vanity Publishing?

Image by Doug Wheller

Image by Doug Wheller

I’ve complained once or twice on the internet (yeah, who am I kidding? Multiply by a factor of at least ten here) about self-publishers who claim that they are indie authors, when an indie author used to be someone who published with an independent press and a self-publisher was someone who published with a vanity press.

I was quite pleased to see this article by Henry Mance on the new face of vanity publishing, which he claims has been updated for the digital age. Now that any Tom, Dick or Harry can publish their own eBook, Henry Mance claims that vanity publishing has reemerged in a new form, which sees the big names like Sir John Hegarty, Charles Saatchi and Morrissey (yes, him again) publishing books to stroke their own egos. Henry’s article The Agony of Hegarty on Creativity is in the Financial Times Business Books section, so you may need to sign up for a free account to read it. It’s a stinger of a review though, so definitely worth the investment of the three minutes that it takes.

The Genre Fiction Debate

corpus christi college

Image by Klovovi under Creative Commons license

Though each speaker(Gaynor Arnold and Elizabeth Edmondson, for, and Juliet McKenna and Anita Mason, against) spoke well, their arguments did seem to repeat each other regardless of what side they were arguing for, the main crux of the issue being reduced to, genre is irrelevant, it’s really a matter of whether the book is good or bad.

Gaynor Arnold’s speech stressed that from her perspective the genre and literary fiction have so much overlap that it’s very unhelpful to put authors into these categories. As an author she was quite concerned that her books would be read as historical fiction. She stressed that a book should be judged by, “is it a good book per se, not is it a good book of it’s type?”

Anita Mason argued in favour of retaining a distinction between the two, because she sees a genre novel as being governed by limitations which allow it to meet the criteria of that genre, while literary fiction is governed by nothing and is trying to do something different.  She cited Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake as a novel which is rooted in a genre (speculative fiction) but has all the qualities of a literary work, comparing writing to a wheel with literary fiction as the hub and genres as the spokes. The hub holds the wheel together and unites the whole, but it is the spokes which give the wheel its strength.

Elizabeth Edmondson used Jane Austen as an example of a literary author who wouldn’t be published as such today- she’d be shoved into romance or comedy which are very rarely considered to be “literary”. Edmondson speculated as to whether classing certain books as being literary fiction wasn’t just a marketing strategy from the publishers to set certain titles apart, a bid to elevate them to the status of literature without the test of time. It’s an interesting idea… one which brings to mind Penguin’s inclusion of Morrissey in its Classics series. Edmondson reminded the audience that though literary fiction may be considered more profound than genre fiction, profundity has a dark twin called pretension which can result in judgemental and reductive reading. “There are only good books and bad books, which can be thrust into many genres- lit fic is just one of these.”

Juliet McKenna was by far my favourite speaker, she is what the world might term a genre fiction writer and is damn proud of it. She sees literary fiction as attempting to reflect real life while speculative fiction introduces an element of other to discuss major ideas without the restriction of a “real life” setting. She argued that the unfamiliar worlds of speculative fiction need to create a clearer picture of the world that they are set in, as the reader’s mind won’t just fill in the blanks that the author has overlooked, so in this sense it is much harder to write speculative fiction well than it is to write literary fiction. I also liked her point about the increased scrutiny that genre fiction authors receive from their reads, the sci-fi and fantasy genres have very active communities built up around them who are incredibly invested in their genres.

The most interesting part of the talk for me was a brief discussion of the influence of metadata in publishing which came up as a result of an audience member complaining that an agent had rejected her novel because it sat across a range of genres. The influence of key words and tagging means that books in future should have the opportunity to define themselves more broadly and reach out to a more specific audience type that isn’t necessarily restricted by a generic categories.

The talk hasn’t revolutionised my views on genre vs literary fiction, I still think genres are useful categorisations for readers. I was a little disappointed that the whole panel was made up of women- even if it is as a result of the Hilda’s college connection. There can only have been two men in the crowd, probably because they saw the genre debate was among a panel of women and thought it would be about chick lit and this genre wasn’t really touched upon. Call me a gender traitor, but I think that putting a man on the panel might have shaken up the debate a little bit- it was a little too collegiate with everyone ultimately agreeing with one another.

Oh hello, sexy typewriter


This reconditioned Imperial 1950’s Typewriter is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. If I won the lottery I would invite it to join me in my life. Unfortunately I would need to win the lottery, so I’ll just have to stick to cute typewriter stationary like this notebook and these book-plates.

Ah, typewriter porn.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has some fairly outspoken critics, usually historians, who complain about the historical accuracy of her work. I’m not one of those, as I think her novels are usually very well written, fairly well researched, and don’t really see the problem with bringing a little imagination to the realm of history. Lots of archaeology programmes seem to be based around the art of educated guessing, so why shouldn’t fiction get to do the same? It’s not like if people who wanted a historian’s take on history wouldn’t buy an academic book by David Starkey, or a serious academic who spends their time doing proper research rather than shouting down women on TV…

Despite all that, I have to say I was truly disappointed in The White Princess, the final story in her The Cousins’ War series. Firstly, it covers a lot of the material that she’s written about in her previous Tudor and Plantagenet books, somewhat inevitably, but at times it’s a little frustrating. Even more frustrating is that it seems to assume that you’ve read all of her other books, so for someone who hasn’t read The Kingmaker’s Daughter, it was a little odd to leap straight into the story with Princess Elizabeth reminiscing about her sex life with her uncle Richard… it just made me feel like Gregory was being forced to walk a fine line between fitting the series format and not rehashing an excessive amount of content. There was huge potential to make this the story of Perkin Warbeck, and that really was a compelling part of the story, but to do so it really needed to be told from the perspective of another character and I assume that didn’t fit the publisher’s plans for the format of the series.

My biggest problem with the books though (and something of a trigger warning here) is that Elizabeth is raped by Henry VII to ensure that she is fertile before he marries her, leading to Arthur being born eight months into their marriage. I accept that rape happened, happens and, particularly in this time, women were treated like chattel and therefore it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise, but what I find particularly troubling is the way this assault is followed up in the rest of the novel. Elizabeth ultimately finds herself falling for her rapist, who then forgets about her and turns his attention to someone else because (it is implied) she should have been a more welcoming wife when she had the chance. That is a really worrying presentation of rape, regardless of when a book is set.