This year promises at least one new author, Lucy Lloyd, as well as the 2018 publication of Gordon Lawrie's new novel The Blogger Who Came in from the Cold.
More news shortly.
...To all of our readers.
This year promises at least one new author, Lucy Lloyd, as well as the 2018 publication of Gordon Lawrie's new novel The Blogger Who Came in from the Cold.
More news shortly.
by Gordon Lawrie
I've had a couple of interesting discussions recently with fellow writers and editors over the value of style manuals such as the Chicago Style Manual, Fowler, Grammar Girl and so on.
Personally, I don't care for them much. Particularly when writing fiction, language style is definitely what seems natural: there isn't a 'right' and 'wrong'. I concede that style manuals are fun to look at sometimes, and there are a few things – italicisation of newspapers or song titles and so on – that my generation wasn't taught at school.
Here are a couple of examples. Some people just hate semi-colons (a word that can be spelled without the hyphen, of course). A semi-colon should separate two linked sentences; the two sentences should be independently viable but feel better connected.
Another bad boy is the "comma splice", sometimes known as the "comma fault". Occasionally it feels right to separate two sections with a comma, the words just read better that way. But you can't lay down rules for any of this. (That comma could even be a semi-colon, for instance. Or just two sentences. Or a dash.)
To quote Lynne Truss (not the Tory cheese woman), "done knowingly by an established writer, the comma splice is effective, poetic, dashing." I'd suggest the rest of us should consider dashing.
Finally, it so happens I completely disagree with Grammar Girl on the use of commas – I just happen to think she's coming from completely the wrong angles. The use of a comma is generally easy for me: it's where you stop to breathe. Just about everyone of my generation would agree with me.
That doesn't mean she's wrong, though, it just means that her style and mine are different...
This article first appeared on Gordon's own blog.
Each year, Friday Flash Fiction – Comely Bank Publishing's sister site – runs a flash fiction contest that attracts entries from around the world. The event is sponsored by Comely Bank Publishing and this year attracted a record entry.
The organisers tried something a little different this year: the two judges selected a short list of eight, then all the Friday Flash Fiction writers were invited to vote for the best one (just like the Oscars).
In the end, the winner was a relatively new Edinburgh writer, Lyn Miller, who won $50 and the pleasure of being a judge next year. Here's her winning entry.
Ruth fled north, escaping her first widowed Christmas. Traditions were the last thing that she wanted. She’d chosen a luxury Lodge offering a gourmet menu and organised activities.
Ice cracked under boots as they climbed and exhaled breath formed a cloud. The group leader yodelled. Nothing, the hills seemed bare. Another yodel and then shapes began to appear; silver-grey, approaching down the hillside. Closer, and antlers became apparent. Ruth’s offering of pellet food on up-turned palms was nuzzled up gently. The reindeer gazed at her as she stroked its warm, luxuriant fur and Ruth’s petrified heart thawed just a little.
Gold, Frankincense and Dust: A Commissario Soneri Investigation by Valerio Varesi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Commissario Soneri, Valerio Varesi's Parma detective, was new to me. Books in translation are always a little dependent on the ability of the translator to communicate the little nuances of the plot, but this is done well.
This is a decent story, centring on the discovery of a burnt out body near an autostrada pile-up, and that of an elederly man who has died on a bus heading back and forwards to Romania. Are the two deaths linked? Along the way, the book touches on the role of Roma gypsies in Italian society and how they're treated, but essentially this is a good old-fashioned detective yarn with credible characters.
It was also short, always a good thing when you're looking at a new author. I'd read more Soneri books, for sure.
View all my reviews
Gordon Lawrie, December 2017.
Comely Bank Publishing author Jane Tulloch features in today's Sunday Post, discussing the lost social history of Edinburgh's lost department stores. (You should be able to read it full-size by clicking on the page above.)
Jane is now in considerable demand as a local historian, and you can go along and hear her speak at Previously..., Scotland's History Festival, which this year runs from 17th-26th November. Jane's slot is on Friday 24th November, 15.30-16.30 in the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, 25 Nicolson Square, priced £3.00.
Find out more, or book online, at:
This article by Danielle Zigner at the excellent Writers&Artists website caught my attention this morning. Zigner is a literary agent with LBA Books, and it's always useful to read what those in the industry have to say.
However, it's a question only first-time authors ask, because of course the real answer is "as long as it takes to tell the story and no more". You should read the full thing (see the link above), but the crux of her answer is: around 100,000 words for adult fiction.
Now that figure of 80K-120K gets bandied about a lot. But it ignores the fact that the person asking the question was that undiscovered first-time author. I'd suggest that Zigner's sums are wrong for two reasons, at least in the UK.
First, very few new writers get contracts with one of the big five publishers. Instead they're picked up by smaller publishers or even publishing collectives such as ourselves. For small publishers, books either have to be bought by wholesalers in bulk, or – much more likely – they're stocked and sold by booksellers in bits and pieces. Small publishers then have to send out books by post individually.
The point is that, in the UK, anything under 25mm thickness can be sent as a "large letter" for around £1.60. Anything thicker than that is classed as "small parcel" and costs around £2.90. That extra £1.30 comes straight out of the profit margin for author and publisher. Typically, a bookseller will expect £4.00 profit margin ("discount") from a £9.99 book. If it costs £2.90 to send the book on top of that, the publisher is left with just £3.00 to produce the book – not very much. The "large letter" option is much better as it leaves £4.30 to play with. Very roughly, a 300-page paperback is around 25mm thick. In my experience, printed in something like Minion or Garamond at 11pt, that's approximately 75K-80K words.
The second factor is easier to understand. If a reader is new to an author, then they're more likely to read a short example of their work first – it's common sense. Here at Comely Bank Publishing we call these "breakthrough titles", and at the foot of the blog you'll see a raft of examples of short novels which are likely to be the first books by those authors that you've read. I know that Zigner makes exceptions for literary fiction, but I think it applies to all adult fiction really. Once you've read one of the author's works, there's every chance you might go back and read a longer one, but then you're in a different league altogether.
A word to all of our customers about Amazon.
At Comely Bank Publishing we are grateful to anyone who's keen to buy any of our paperback books. But while we appreciate that Amazon is often a convenient way of buying books, we feel that you need to be aware that Amazon eats massively into our profits.
Sure, you're buying direct from us, so you'd think that by cutting out the middle man – the bookstore – you'd be doing yourselves and us a favour. Sadly, the story isn't quite so rosy.
It's been our practice in the past to try to deliver our books to you post free, but in addition to the postage (which will be £2.85 for many of our books) Amazon charges us a staggering 38%-46% transaction fee. What that means is that, if a book costs £9.99, the combination of postage and Amazon can take up more than £7.00. Your local bookshop won't be making that sort of profit margin, and they'll be offering you a much better service.
We can't really operate at those charges, so we're going to have to start charging for postage if you order through Amazon, I suspect.
If you want to order online, why not order direct from our bookshop page? We still have to pay around 8%-10% transaction fee with PayPal or credit card, but it's a whole lot better for both you the customer and for we writers. We can absorb the postage in most cases, and we probably deliver quicker, too.
Above all, though, we hope you enjoy our books. Thank you for continuing to support us.
Today marks the publication of the Gordon Lawrie's first print book in five years, The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell-Hume.
Mary Maxwell-Hume is an enigma. She earns a living as a piano teacher, but also belongs to an obscure order of nuns. Their rules appear curious: although the nuns wear red habits occasionally, the order has a peculiar dress code: nuns wear ‘only as much as is necessary to preserve due modesty’ – plus liberal doses of Chanel No.5 perfume. There’s the faintest hint that Mary might be a bit of a hustler, but she uses her sensual powers in such a way that nobody really minds – except for the odious Theodore Plews of Lamberts Auction House in Edinburgh. Anyway, who would dare suggest that a woman of God might not all be all she seems? Eventually, she engages a young police constable as her faithful ‘assistant’... This series of short stories combines into an entertaining novella with more than an occasional twist. Why not sit back and enjoy where Mary Maxwell-Hume leads you?
The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell-Hume by Gordon Lawrie, (ISBN 9780993026263) is available now from all good bookstores in the UK, online on Amazon, and on Kindle. It is also available direct from this website, priced £5.99.
The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My son thinks the Mickey Haller lawyer series is even better Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch. I'm not sure I go with that, but I understand what he's saying: Haller is a fresher character. The Gods of Guilt in this book are the juries – both the real jury in a murder trial, and the imaginery jury associated with Haller's past.
In brief, Haller finds himself defending a potentially unsavoury pimp who's accused of murdering one of his hookers. Pretty soon, though, Haller realises that there's a lot more to the case than there seems at first, and it's bound up with another much older case. Of course there are are good guys and bad, and in books like these you never know who's who until the very end. Some are a bit of both.
I read this book in a little over 24 hours. OK, I was on holiday and that always speeds things up, but it was a real page-turner nonetheless. Can't wait for the next one.
View all my reviews
Gordon Lawrie reviews Eric J Smith's latest collection of short stories.
Coffee, Steak, And Eggs: 101 Stories from the Wrong Side of Nowhere by Eric J. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Eric Smith's writing is so atmospheric, you almost feel you've been transported to his world. Told in a series of short stories of varying lengths, he "unfolds" rather than "tells" his tales. Oddly enough for a Maryland resident, his "fiction world" is very much rooted somewhere in the American Mid-West, a world of small-town bars, run-down garages, red-knecks and tough women. Don't expect to find too many smart suits or city girls.
I love Coffee, Steak and Eggs. I believe I've read a handful of them before on the legendary Friday Flash Fiction site, but Smith has reworked most of them to give a freshness that makes everything seem new. As he says in the introduction, removing the somewhat artificial constraints set by flash fiction sites has allowed him to develop each story a little and control the pace more carefully. If I have to pick a favourite it would be Living Alone. Everything's there in that little tale, which almost stretches out to a full short story.
I strongly recommend Coffee, Steak and Eggs. It's just the sort of book to have at your side to while away a bus or train journey, or an hour in an airport. Or you might have it by your chair to pick up and read in an odd moment. It won't interrupt whatever else you're reading, this is stuff to dip-in to, and to savour.
View all my reviews
The economics of ebooks can be really confusing. In theory it's a low-risk enterprise, as anyone can upload a novel, say, onto Amazon KDP, sit back and see what happens. If nobody buys your book, you've paid nothing, so you've lost nothing. If you sell, then Amazon takes a cut, that's all. Amazon charges a kind of a no-win-no-fee, like those ambulance-chasing law firms.
But wait a moment. Everywhere you turn, you're advised to get professional help to edit your book, to proof-read it and – in particular – for a cover. Even if you're an ace with Adobe InDesign, don't trust yourself with your own cover.
In each case you get what you pay for. So for a quality result, you might end up spending hundreds of pounds. You'll not get that back selling books tucked away on the internet for 99¢ per download. So oddly enough, the best way to get your money back is to print a few copies, using the same cover and so on, because you can make a greater unit profit on each sale. You'll get your money back quicker in print; you'll make money quicker selling ebooks. I honestly think you need both, you're wasting your time just publishing ebooks.
A few months ago I fell out with a fellow writer about the supposed revelation of the real identity of the author Elena Ferrante. If you recall, a researcher into the author of My Brilliant Friend et al had unmasked her – correctly or otherwise – as a German translator.
Ferrante had asked for privacy, and Claudio Gatti, the researcher in question, made a poor defence of his right to find out more about her. He could have argued that she's made millions, enhanced in part by the secrecy surrounding her identity, for instance.
Instead, Gatti simply outed the German translator, saying that Ferrnate had lied about her past. I won't name the translator here because she, too, is entitled to as much privacy as I can offer. If Ferrante and this woman are not one and the same, then the researcher has ruined two lives, not one.
I suspect that at least part of the outrage amongst Ferrante's (mostly female) readership is that the author has always threatened to give up writing if she were ever exposed. And she undoubtedly has a right to privacy.
But where I disagreed with my writing friend (I'm still not sure we've made up yet) is that she, like many other women, saw something even more sinister in the fact that Gatti is male and Ferrante is (presumably) female: she saw a sexual motive. In the Guardian, psychoanalyst Fiona Sinclair suggested that,
Gatti tears off Ferrante's clothes, removes her cloak of invisibility, in something approaching a sexual act. Perhaps it was titillating for him.
I'd suggest that anyone who believes that – simply because Gatti is male and Ferrante is female, in other words – is themselves guilty of sexism. As a premise, it would suggest that only men can research the lives of men and women the lives of women. Which would be manifest rubbish.
Today, I came across an interesting parallel case, a woman who has re-branded herself to be known solely by her first name. I don't want to out her either so let's say that her real name is Jessica Lemon, and she wants to be known as "Jessica" in everything – Dr Jessica, Rev Jessica, Dame Jessica, even just "Jessica" on her passport. This isn't a cultural thing, it's purely a branding matter.
It causes problems on certain social media such as LinkedIn which demand accurate name disclosure. And I'm sure I'd be kicked off fast enough if I registered my second name as a symbol, which is what Jessica does. Technically she's not even asked for privacy, and she's choosing to play hide-and-seek with her surname. It's just her marketing ploy.
So does the fact that I'm faintly curious to know her real surname make me a sexual predator? I sure hope not.
(First posted on www.lawrie.info)
The other day I was hawking one of our latest titles round some local bookstores. It's shortish, can be printed and shipped at far less than the usual cost and I'd hoped it would be a Christmas winner as a stocking-filler.
So far so good. But despite the fact that it was designed by a professional designer, the cover didn't appeal to one bookseller. The person in question has been incredibly supportive in the past, so I really was naturally disappointed by her lack of enthusiasm. That disappointment was compounded by the fact that the book in question was one of my own. She'd no idea why, the cover just didn't do it for her. However she kindly promised to take it home and read it.
Today I popped back in to see her. I'd had favourable responses from other bookstores and hoped she'd changed her mind.
But again I was disappointed. She still couldn't quite tell what she didn't like about the book, although now she added that she'd found an awful lot of typos in it – saying she's never noticed typos before in books. (The book was actually proofread in hard copy by three different people.) I've just checked it again and found just one – the one she mentioned herself.
All first editions have the odd typo or print error, although readers mostly miss them because they're engrossed in the story. However I felt that this bookseller had set her mind against the book – purely on the basis of a cover she didn't like – and was looking to justify that gut feeling. It's happened before, by a different bookseller, to one of our other author's books. Without opening the book at all, the bookseller was set on proving that it was poorly written.
It's human nature, really. When we have a gut feeling but we're not sure why, we all look for other random justifications for that instinct. We can't change that, nor should anyone try. But it does demonstrate how important a cover is to a book, and that even using a professional designer (at no small cost) is no guarantee of success.
(First published on LinkedIn)
David Mitchell and David Greilsammer: Scarlatti and Cage
St Mary's Cathedral, Manor Place
This collaboration between Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell and Israeli pianist David Greilsammer was actually an experiment in trying to blend Mitchell's spoken words with the keyboard sonatas of those two groundbreaking composers: Domenico Scarlatti in the 18th century, John Cage in the 20th.
There were five readings, each followed by a few Cage or Scarlatti pieces, played alternately. Greilsammer's performance of both composers' work was spellbinding – he made even Cage accessible. Greilsammer had two grand pianos, one conventionally set up for the Scarlatti pieces, the other "prepared" specially to fit Cage's work. The audience were never told in what way it had been "prepared", sadly.
I'm not sure that Mitchell's reading did his own writing justice. The first story featured Scarlatti himself, and that was easy enough to follow. But then Mitchell moved into the sort of prose-poetry that Dylan Thomas created for Under Milk Wood. Mitchell's writing sounded lovely, but sadly, Mitchell gobbled his words a little and it was hard to make them out. He also has a slightly distracting habit of swaying from side to side as he reads. And he was let down by poor amplification, and a spotlight would have been good, too. But his texts were good.
Greilsammer, on the other hand, was simply sensational. Every piece commanded my attention, and when the pair were given a standing ovation at the end, I felt the pianist was deserving of the lion's share.
As an encore, Mitchell read a poem about a nightmare, which Greilsammer then complemented the text by playing a Scarlatti sonata – on the prepared Cage piano! It certainly produced strange sounds, but curiously not so strange as to be unbearable, reinforcing his very point that the two composers had more in common than at first seemed.
Baillie Gifford Tent, Friday 25th August
Rachel and Becky Unthank are singing sisters from Northumberland who have gradually built a reputation for 'doing their own thing' in many different ways. Here they appeared in conversation with the author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas amongst others), interspersed with some great music. They were accompanied on piano by Adrian McNally, their manager, accompanist, arranger and, incidentally, Rachel Unthank's husband.
Mitchell asked some prepared questions in an amusing manner and clearly loves the Unthanks' music. They all came across well on stage, Rachel answering more of the questions than her younger sister, but each of them seemed to be enjoying it. McNally, too, gave articulate and thoughtful answers, trying to be a slight counterpoint to Becky and Rachel's more light-hearted responses. McNally, by the way, is an outstanding piano accompanist.
The music was outstanding, if slightly disrupted. Despite having to compete with a nearby rock band, the noise of heavy rain on the theatre roof, and, comically, fireworks from the nearby Tattoo, they ploughed on manfully. Fortunately everything died down in time to hear Becky sing Nick Drake's River Man, accompanied only sparsely by McNally on piano – albeit an extraordinarily complex accompaniment at times.
Excellent. Listen out for The Unthanks.
Laura Albert: In Therapy With Susie Orbach
Baillie Gifford Tent, 21st August 2017
Paraded as an “experiment” by Susie Orbach – she of Fat Is A Feminist Issue – this extraordinary show was indeed much more performance than simple interview. It’s probably fair to say that most of the audience were primarily there to see Orbach, but her day job is as a psychoanalyst, and this interview with Laura Albert took the form of a therapy session with the American writer.
Orbach started well – with the words "Tell me", then silence. Taking that cue, Albert talked on her own terms, and I took to her straight away. Not knowing a lot about her, it became clear that the key features in her life were abuse (primarily) and the use of food and writing as counterweights. She looks nothing like her years – nor does Orbach, by the way – which suggests that each of these women gains vitality from their work. Briefly, Albert was allowed to touch on how abuse has affected her and her work, and on a period when she was (as she put it) 'outed' as her pseudonym JT LeRoy. Albert, it transpired, had got herself into difficulties by signing a contract under her pseudonym and had subsequently successfully been sued for fraud.
Having been encouraged to open up by Orbach, Albert then found her 'therapy session' being channeled by Orbach into the therapist's favourite topic, food, fat and body shape. Now Orbach began to direct the show, and there was far less opportunity to find out about Albert – whose story was, frankly, far more interesting for this observer.
Then the "performance" ended and there followed a debrief and then questions from the audience which were once again dominated by Orbach rather than Albert. Orbach felt that she'd been "unable to draw a thread" from Albert's talk – as if that were the therapist's job. For her part, Albert, clearly a vulnerable woman, made it clear that she felt taken advantage of by Orbach. And although Orbach said she was sorry that Albert felt 'disappointed', she failed to apologise that Albert was in tears at the end of the show. I found Orbach's lack of professional concern unacceptable, and actually quite shocking. Audience members near me seemed to share that view.
I'd like to have bought one of Laura Albert's books afterwards in the signing tent, but the pair of them were sitting together – how that could be I couldn't fathom – and at that point I couldn't bring myself to be near Susie Orbach.
What on earth was Orbach playing at?
I can still remember the very first piece of advice I received as a would-be author: develop a very, very thick skin. Boy, has that been useful.
It felt like an achievement to finish a novel of 100,000 words – it is an achievement, actually – and it was pretty devastating to send the manuscript off to agents and publishers only to receive a series of rejections. What was wrong with my book? I thought it was OK, and secretly I still think it is.
The commonest response was "Sorry, Gordon, it's not for me." I just saw REJECTION in that sentence, but with the benefit of hindsight I now take the statement at face value: my manuscript simply didn't do it for that particular agent or publisher. Others might have a different view. Five years down the line, I also recognise that commercial publishing means looking for books that sell, not for good books, and a book can be an enjoyable read without being marketable. Publishing is a business.
Eventually I ended up doing some publishing myself. I'm not running a business – Comely Bank Publishing is a self-publishing collective – but we still need to make sure authors don't lose money. So I listened to words of wisdom from cover designers, from editors, from printers, and most of all from booksellers. Even from LinkedIn. I believe that the books that we now put out are high quality, both the written content and the product itself. When readers that you've never met say the nicest things about your book, it makes all the kickings to get there worthwhile.
A happy ending? Well, sort of. However, just as you never stop learning in this business, so yet another kicking is just waiting for you around the next corner. This week, a normally very supportive bookseller took an instant dislike to the cover design of a new title. Even she couldn't identify what the problem was, which didn't help either, but her opinion will still be useful, whatever we choose to do next.
Because the second bit of advice (from the same person) was also useful: always have a Plan B – and a Plan C, a Plan D and a Plan E. Don't just wring your hands in despair, do something. I do have two or three backup plans, but I'm keeping those thoughts to myself for the moment.
It doesn't mean to say that any of those plans will actually work, of course. Another corner turned could mean yet another kicking. Which means the skin has to get just a little thicker in response.
This article first appeared on LinkdIn.
August in Edinburgh means "Festival", in this case "Festival Fringe". Blackwell's Writers At The Fringe is now in its 10th year, and hosted by the sublimely eccentric Ann Landemann the excellent Edinburgh bookstore allowed five more Scottish authors the chance to strut their stuff tonight.
First up was Willie Hershaw, erstwhile head of English at Beath High School in Fife, but now focusing on writing Scots poetry. For those of us familiar with the language, this was a major treat: this was precise, accessible, unaffected Scots, a far cry from some of Hugh MacDiarmid's more affected efforts. I liked Hershaw's very first poem about the wartime pit disaster in High Valleyfield and his observations on wildlife more than the longer Lockerbie poem he read later: the latter didn;t quite work for me. A nice translation of Prospero into Scots at the end worked well, though. Hershaw is funny, to the point, and should be watched out for.
Ever Dundas nor Charles McGarry both disappointed me somewhat. Dundas read from a child-centred fantasy book set in World War 2 and did almost nothing except read from her novel. Since the genre didn't interest me, I was never going have the opportunity to find her interesting either. On the other hand Charles McGarry came across as a little aggressive. He's written one crime novel, which took 5 years, but he spoke as if he were a superstar who'd written 25 or more. I wasn't sure about his writing style either. It seemed a little forced, too flowery: crime fiction is entertainment first, second and third. The reader should never be aware it's well written until long after the book's been put down. Perhaps both Dundas and McGarry were a little nervous.
Then we had Comely Bank Publishing's own Jane Tulloch. Jane has really grown in confidence, and despite admitting that many in her audience wouldn't really like her feelgood style, she came over well, read a couple of nice pieces from her new book, and generally picked up the pace of the evening well.
The last act was Willie McIntyre. By sheer chance I'd bought his new book as a present for my son's birthday the previous week, so I was doubly interested. A criminal defence lawyer himself, McIntyre's crime writing seems easy reading, occasionally amusingly politically incorrect (but not offensively so) and he came across as a man who writes for fun – something Tulloch had referred to earlier as well. McIntyre's readings were funny, and read well, too. Based on this alone, I'd recommend his books.
Gordon Lawrie, 10th August 2017
Do you have your tickets yet for the launch of Jane Tulloch's Assured Attention? Once more Jane takes us into the curious, sometimes bizarre world of the fictional Murrays department store on Edinburgh's Princes St, although this time we've moved into the 1980s.
The launch takes place on Monday, 31st July 2017 in Blackwell's in the South Bridge, Edinburgh, from 6.30 until 7.45, and there will be some light liquid refreshments. Jane will be in conversation with Comely Bank Publishing's Gordon Lawrie, will read from her new book, and will take questions from the floor.
This event is ticketed but free.
A couple of weeks ago I heard of an author who was publishing his own book. (We hear a lot about self-publishing, understandably.) Self-publishing is an excellent route, but writers need to be clear about what they're trying to do.
If the object is simply to get something they've written in print, no matter how good or bad or it is, then that's simply vanity. Vanity publishing submits itself to no test of quality. For the record, we're very strict at Comely Bank Publishing; all of our publications are judged by peers. But if you're going it alone then your book either had to be good – and an author isn't the best judge of his or her own work – or about making money.
So back to our writer. It turned out that he was spending a lot of money. He's paid for a cover (not a great one, I'd suggest), the book has been edited and proof-read at considerable expense, and there are print costs of course, too. And that's to say nothing about marketing or distribution.
This author reckons he needs to sell several hundred copies, but he hasn't a hope. Meantime he's laid himself wide open to those sharks that swim around self-publishing authors – and from which we at Comely Bank Publishing make such an effort to protect our group.
So, to all authors, a word of advice: subject yourself to the fiercest criticism. (Not from people who don't like your kind of book, though!) Let them say their worst. They will, it'll hurt, and they'll probably be on an ego trip of their own. But never mind. If you still think the book is worth publishing, try to do so in a way that doesn't expose yourself to too much financial risk. That means ebooks, or possibly CreateSpace or a similar print-on-demand system. Perhaps, if it's good enough and fits our profile, we might endorse it at Comely Bank Publishing. Otherwise: take care.
Good luck to that guy with the new book. I haven't read it, and I've no idea how any shop would ever find out about it, let alone stock it. Let me know if you find out.
Two things are already possible: either you've clicked away in disgust, or you're about to read avidly!
Sometimes it seems that a modern novel isn't complete without a sex scene, sometimes quite a few. Writers seem to feel pressured into including some quite graphic details, often with disastrous consequences. The physiology and mechanics of the act itself are rarely critical to the plot; the key feature is the nature of the relationship between the characters. Is it tender? Is it mutually consensual? Is it part of a permanent coupling or merely a one-night stand?
Personally, I think a good sex scene should have two key components. First, the reader should be able to relate to the event – a seventeen-orgasm bonk is just a joke. I think the scenes are actually sexier where the individuals are themselves more ordinary – an extension of the Brief Encounter idea, where the very ordinariness of the Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard characters is what makes it work. The reader wants to relate to every part of the book. Athletic male six-packs and female catwalk figures don't quite do it.
The second aspect of a good sex scene is that less is more. Alfred Hitchcock always maintained that the human mind was more afraid of what it could imagine than what it actually saw; I think the same applies to sex. Let the reader fill in the blanks for themselves – in any case, who are you, the author, to presume that you're the expert?
Finally, a strange thought arose today from Emma Baird's blog. She's currently writing an LGBT novel, and she posted a sample chapter which referred to the sexual awakening of one of the characters. Both of the characters are men, so we have to assume that Emma doesn't have a lot of personal experience. I've met authors who have passionately argued that a woman can't possibly write from a male point of view, yet I found her handling of the scene to be tender and appropriate – perhaps precisely because she had to leave so much to the reader's imagination. Is it easier for straight writers to write LBGT fiction about the other gender? It's an interesting question.
We've decided to combine our previous "News" and "Writers' Diaries" pages into one, under the one general heading of "Blog". It's a lot easier to find articles if everything is in the same place.
We've simply changed the name of the "News" page to "Blog". We've also moved all of our 2017 Writers' Diaries entries to the new Blog page, but if you're desperate to have a look at any of our previous Writers' Diaries entries, the old page is still there. We might recycle one or two of these in the Blog, if they're still relevant.
Suppose someone asks you to look over the manuscript for their new novel – perhaps their first one ever. It might be the first time sou've ever been asked, too, so here are five tips from someone who's been at both ends of the process.
1. Don't confuse "story", "plot" and "structure". Sure, they're connected, and all books need a basic storyline, but there are different ways of letting the plot unfold. Sometimes, for instance in crime or spy fiction, the reader is often intended to feel confused: the entire story is revealed in the last few pages. Some stories start from the finishing point and describe how the central character got there. If the structure doesn't work for you personally, then say so, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.
2. Don't assume a central character has to be credible or likeable. The flawed anti-hero can do daft things, and can even be a pretty daft person: the concept of a little Belgian with a waxed moustache mincing around solving crimes is fairly incredible – but it works. The reader has to find the central character engaging, but that's not the same thing at all. What fails to engage you might engage other readers.
3. Don't get too hung up on background detail. A book can have too much or too little, or the detail can be wrong, but all of these can be corrected in edits or re-writes. It's the story that matters.
4. Don't "read a book by numbers" – with a check-list of things to write about. A novel is a work of art, and it deserves to be viewed as a complete entity. If you're struggling for something to write about in your feedback, then fine, a checklist can act as a useful prompt, but that's about it.
5. Finally, please never, never, never tell an author that their book is not fit for public consumption. Not in any way at all. The book might "not be for you", or "not to your taste", or even "not be a good fit for your publishing house", but you should always leave the author encouraged to write more – either to adapt the existing manuscript, or to write something else then return to that manuscript. Telling the author that they can't write or that the submitted manuscript is a 'bad book' is actually the height of arrogance – what special skills do you have to make that judgement?
Remember – that manuscript baby is likely to be the result of many long nights' hard work, perhaps years if it's a first novel. How would you feel if someone told you that your first-born was so ugly it was fit for the bin?
(This article first appeared on LinkedIn in February 2017.)
Edinburgh University's Student magazine – reputedly the oldest university newspaper in the world – published this review of Roland Tye's Weekender recently, along with a little biographical detail.
Click on the link below to see the full article.
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