Thursday, 21 January 2016

Over at the Allsorts

As you may already know I regularly post over at the Author Allsorts blog - a collaborative blog run by a group of published UK based picture book, children's and YA authors.

My latest post talks about the science in science fiction and if you haven't already seen it then do pop over and take a look.

When Science and Fiction Collide:

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Pen Names

I sometimes wish I’d been published under a pen name.

It’s not that I dislike my name – in fact I think it’s a good name. It points clearly to my Celtic roots and I’m proud of my heritage. No, the problem is that I share my name with rather too many other people.

When I first started sending stuff out I briefly thought about my name, but at that time the only other Kate Kelly that came up in my google searches was the infamous Kate of the Kelly Gang, sister to Ned the Australian outlaw. I thought she made a rather cool namesake, and so I kept my name.

But over the years, since those first short stories came out in print, a number of other Kate Kellys have appeared on the scene. There’s one who writes non fiction. She isn’t an issue since she clearly isn’t me. But then, when Red Rock went up on Amazon I looked at the ‘People who viewed this also viewed’ section and was horrified to see a whole load of rather steamy covers showing up – not the most appropriate thing to be appearing on the page of a children’s book!

And then there’s the Mormon activist! Now if you search on my name and Red Rock most of the hits will be her!

Even the Guardian muddled us up – linking to her biography from a piece I wrote for them recently! These days I seem to spend most of the time trying to tell people they’ve got the wrong Kate Kelly!

There are many reasons authors chose to publish under a pen name. Maybe it is because they are writing in more than one genre and want to keep their readerships separate, or maybe it is because they don’t want anyone they know to find out what they are writing – say they are a teacher or a Judge writing raunchy romance!

In my case I think I’ll use a pen name in future simply to avoid confusion!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

It's December and we are winding up to Christmas!

I love this time of year, I love the mice pies, the mulled wine, carols by candlelight, decorating the tree, feasting on Christmas goodies, mass on Christmas eve and the joy of family gathered round the table for Christmas dinner!

This is the Celtic nativity scene that my father gave me. I get it out every year and every so often I add to it. Note the caganer (Queen) crouching in the background - and this year two Portuguese cockerels have joined the animals in the stable.

So I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a successful and prosperous 2016 and I'll see you all in the New Year.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Choose your Publisher with care.

There are so many options for writers struggling to find a home for their work. So many different routes to publication. Many authors these days are opting to self-publish – either going it alone or as part of a collective. And for some this has proven to be a very successful route.

But I’m not here to talk about self-publishing today. I’m going to talk about the different sorts of publisher out there. Because not all publishers are created equal. And one way of distinguishing between them is to look at their business models and ask yourself – who is the customer?

1. Vanity Publishers
These are full service publishers. They will edit, print, format and design the cover art for a fee. In this business model the author is the customer. Not the reader. Of course you may wish to use one of these services for a specific project such as a memoir or a community project and would prefer to pay someone else to do it for you rather than do it yourself. In that case you’ll have plenty of choice.
2. The Subsidy Publisher
These initially appear to be standard publishers. The author receives an e-mail saying how much they love the book and would like to publish it. However, they then go on to state that they will require the author to make a contribution. This can be in the order of thousands of pounds! The problem here is that in their business model the author is the customer. If you sign with one of these publishers, yes, you’ll have a published book in your hands but the editing may be woefully inadequate and marketing will be non-existent. They’re got their money so why should they do anything else? If you follow this link you will find a thread on the Absolute Write Forum which discusses just such a publisher.
3. The e-book publisher
There was a huge proliferation of e-book publishers that appeared at the start of the e-book revolution. Now some of these have done extremely well and in some genres such as romance there is a huge e-book market and excellent opportunities for authors. But not all e-book publishers are equal. There are some that accept nearly every book submitted to them and push out large numbers of releases with minimum editing effort and basic covers. Here the business model is to sell small numbers of lots of books. This is good for the publisher, but not for the author. Interestingly this business model is not one that can be sustained and I’m noticing more and more of these types of publishers are folding. There’s a thread here on the Absolute Write Forum discussing one such publisher which recently went under. It’s quite shocking to see how low some author’s sales were and how the publisher used unpaid interns to do the editing.
4. The Small independent Publisher
Sometimes these are e-book publishers, sometimes both e-book and print. These publishers may be small but they invest in their authors and titles providing sound editing and decent cover art, but most important they put a good deal of effort into promotion and marketing. Of course if they end up with a big hit on their hands they might struggle to keep up with demand, but the key point here is that it is the reader who is the customer and they will do their best to get your book into as many readers hands as they possibly can.
5. The Big 6.
Again, the reader is the customer, as it should be. Generally these will only accept agented submissions, but occasionally they will offer open submissions windows. It’s worth keeping an eye out – you never know – it could be your break.

So when you are trying to decide which publishers to approach or whether to accept that offer you’ve just received, take a long hard look at their business model and then decide if they are right for you.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

This Little World: stories from Dorset Writers

About a year ago I became involved with an exciting initiative from the Dorset Writers Network. The idea was to run a series of writing workshops across rural Dorset to encourage people to have a go at writing a short story set in the county. These stories could then be entered it into a competition being run by DWN for inclusion in an anthology.

I ran workshops in my local village hall and at a local secondary school as well as being involved in the judging and mentoring for the adult entries.

There have been many people involved throughout the process and on Saturday the project reached its culmination with the launch of the anthology This Little World: Stories from Dorset Writers.

The This Little World book launch and Writers Day took place at Dorchester Library. At the launch event the organisers talked about the project and some of the featured authors read out their stories. A couple were stories that I had picked out which is a lovely feeling, but I have to say I was particularly impressed with the children’s entries! What a wealth of young talent this county has!

As well as the launch itself there was a series of writing workshops covering all sorts of subjects from writing dialogue to poetry and screenplays and The Littoralis (me and fellow local authors Laura James and Kathy Sharp) hosted a panel event where we discussed our experiences with our publishers. Despite all of us being published by small mainstream publishers our routes to publication and our experiences of the process couldn’t have been more different!

The whole event was extremely well attended and the anthology sold out within minutes! But fear not. The paperback version is available on Amazon and an e-book edition will be following soon. It is packed with a wealth of wonderful Dorset set stories and would make a perfect Christmas present.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Twelve Tips for Book Promotion

Ah, book promotion – that ticklish subject – but something that every author has to think about at some point. Whether you are self-published, with a small press or published by one of the big trade publishers, you will find yourself doing book promotion in some form or other.

For my YA novel, Red Rock, my publisher had a dedicated marketing team and allocated a publicist for me to work with. Her help was invaluable. She arranged for me to write articles timed to appear around the time my book was launched. She pitched me to literary festivals and even managed to get me an appearance at the Edinburgh festival. She came up with ideas I would never have thought of on my own. Even so, it was still expected that I would do what I could to help promote the book. Not everything I tried worked, but I want to share with you the things that did.

With my short story collection about to hit the shelves I started looking around at blogs and articles on book promotion, looking for ideas that I could apply. I’ve come across lots of information on how NOT to promote your book, and I could make a whole blog post out of these – don’t spam people on twitter, don’t harass people for reviews or pay for fake ones… But I couldn’t find very much offering ideas on what you SHOULD do. So that is what I’m going to cover here.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of these will convert into sales, but you never know where they might lead. Nobody really knows why some books take off and others don’t. Very often it is by word of mouth, and that, I’m afraid is something we don’t have any control over.

So here are my top tips for book promotion:

1. Internet presence
At the very least make sure you have a website or a blog to showcase your books. Include a contact page – this is very important – I’ve had several opportunities arise through people contacting me via my blog. Keep it up to date and keep any blog posts interesting and relevant. Set up author pages on Amazon and goodreads. Twitter accounts and a facebook page can also be useful for some people. Plus any other social media platforms you may like to use. But don’t spam people about your book! If you seem like an interesting person then they may well check it out without any prompting.

2. Media
You or your publisher should put together a press release around the time of your book launch. Local newspapers are often looking for stories to fill their pages and like nothing better than a local author, especially if there is an interesting angle you can take, local history for example. Send them the press release and then follow up by e-mail. The same applies to local radio stations. Again they will be looking for an angle. Don’t forget to mention the title of your book at least once during the interview but don’t overdo it!

3. Launch Party/Book signings
Whether you hold a launch party or not is a personal thing. For Red Rock I hired out my local village hall and invited loads of people and sold a lot of books. Provide refreshments, do a reading, and make sure you have plenty of books to sell! (I ran out). If you are with a mainstream publisher your local bookstore will often sort out a stall for you. Otherwise get a friend or family member to do the selling so you have a chance to mix! Another option is to run an online launch party. I’ve seen quite a few of these on Facebook. It’s worth checking a few out and seeing how they work. It is also worth talking to your local bookshop to see if you can go in one Saturday morning and do a signing. You may not sell many books but the store will probably continue to stock a few.

4. Giveaways
There’s nothing nicer than a free book. I’ve had a few from giveaways and I love it when the package turns up! There are lots of ways to do this, one of the easiest being to run a Goodreads giveaway. Or you can run one from you own website or blog using a tool such as rafflecopter. Try to run it in such a way that encourages people to tweet and share it, or maybe tie it into a blog tour. One tip though – don’t do it in the run up to Christmas – there are loads of giveaways going on around that time and yours will get lost in the noise!

5. Networking
I’m not talking about social media here, I’m talking about the real world, networking with other authors, booksellers, local writing groups. Don’t go into this with the sole purpose of getting people to buy your books, but as they get to know you they probably will. Since getting published I got to know several other published writers in my local area. We’ve now teamed up to offer author events. We share opportunities and support each other when times are tough. I wouldn’t be without them.

6. Literary Festivals
These days it seems that every town is holding a literary festival. Why not check out what is happening in your local area. See what sorts of events these festivals have put on in the past. Then have a think about what you can offer them. It’s no good sending them an e-mail saying, “Hi, I’m an author and I’d like to appear at you festival.” You need to come up with something specific. Think of an event or a workshop you can offer. Then put together a professional looking pitch and send it out. It might be worth teaming up with other authors. My local author friends and I have called our little group The Littoralis and we have been offering a panel event to local festivals. One word of warning though – even a small literary festival gets its programme set up well in advance so you need to get in early. A year ahead is not too soon!

7. Writing Workshops
You’re a published author now, so don’t sell yourself short. Whether you’re self-published or trade published you have studied the craft of writing and have an insight into the world of publishing that other aspiring writers would love to hear about. If you write for children then your local schools will often be interested if you offer to run writing workshops for them. Or perhaps this is something you could offer to local literary festivals or colleges, or even run a course for adults off your own back. All you need is a venue and the will.

8. Writing Group and Book Group visits
I bet there are loads of local book groups or writers groups in your area who would love a visit from a published author! I’ve been to a few and always found them very welcoming. If your book is the type that might interest book groups then why not arrange a tour around the time your book comes out. They’ll probably want to read your book before they meet you to discuss it and they normally do this through the local library, so that will probably be a good way to contact them. Writers groups are a bit different. You could offer them a workshop. They should be happy for you to talk about your book and your experiences of publication and will probably want to buy some copies, so make sure you take some along.

9. Articles and blog tours
Magazine articles, guest blog posts and blog tours are all good ways to engage with potential readers. Most of these you will offer for free but you never know. An interesting article will make people want to know more about you so make sure that you include a link to an up to date website in your bio. Some publicists or publishers will arrange blog tours, but this will depend on the audience you are writing for.

10. The Old Boy network
Your old school will probably be interested in the former pupil, now a published author, so, unless you’re writing something rather too steamy, then get in touch with them and offer an author visit. The same goes for Universities. Many have an active alumni programme and would be happy to feature you in their alumni magazine.

11. Opportunities
Take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. For example, I spotted a tweet from a local tourist attraction asking for local authors to attend their opening. This led to a series of lovely author events at the venue concerned and a decent number of book sales.

12. Be a Professional!
Finally remember that this is a business and although you may do some events or write some articles for free, don’t be afraid to ask for a fee and expenses where appropriate. If you act like a professional you’ll be treated like one!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Booker Prize 2015

Yesterday the winner of the Booker Prize was announced – and in case you don’t know it was Marlon James for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

Every year in the run up the award the YCAA runs a Booker Debate at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil. A panel of six people read and review the shortlisted books, and for the past few years I have been honoured to take part. Some years none of us think we have the winner. This year three of us did, which I think reflects the interest and diversity of this year’s shortlist.

This year I was allocated Satin Island by Tom McCarthy to read.

Now if you look at the reviews for the shortlisted six you might notice that Satin Island comes off quite badly being slated for being boring and pretentious. But I think it is wrong to write it off so easily, because it is in fact a really interesting book.

Yes. It is quite pretentious. For example the name of the main character, U, I think is meant to draw analogy between U the character and You the reader.

The characters we meet are vague and thinly drawn. U has a friend called Petr and a woman he sleeps with called Maddison but none of these characters are given any great depth; their relationship with U superficial. It is almost as if U is swamped with so much else that the real world lacks definition.
U Works for The Company and is tasked with writing the Big Report, both of which are also frustratingly vague. In fact U spends most of his time at work in his basement office surfing the internet and navel gazing.

And yet there is so much more to this book. U is constantly bombarded by images, news reports, the internet. Too much information for any one individual to assimilate. In fact the whole novel feels like it’s buffering – that frustration you get when you try to watch something but it simply won’t get going.

And this is where, in my opinion, this book is extremely clever. We live in an age of information overload. In a way we are buffering as we try to take it all in, and I think this is the effect the author was trying to achieve. In which case it works. Satin Island is a true reflection on our times and the world we live in.

I also found it surprisingly readable – for a book that never actually goes anywhere and has no characterisation, no plot, and nothing actually happens.

This is a book that I suspect everyone will see slightly differently and we will all come away from it with a different perspective. And it is this multi-layering that I think is where the genius of Satin Island lies. Yes, it may be pretentious but I suspect it could also just be brilliant.

And I reckon that sometime in the future someone will be writing a PhD thesis about it and how it reflects this world of information overload we live in.