The Kindness of Authors

Kindness

Image Licensed by Creative Commons: source https://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/

As some of you may know, my background is in business. I spent over 25 years making money for some of the world’s largest corporations. Unlike some, I never found it as a soul-less existence. I enjoyed what I did and I especially enjoyed working with so many great people. When I decided to leave to concentrate on my writing, I knew I would miss my colleagues. It’s a wonderful feeling being part of a group working towards a common goal. Becoming an author, I expected my working life to be more like one man against the world.

Instead I discovered a wonderful community of authors.

 

The best part of writing has been the care and support shown by many hundreds of authors. It was such a surprise. In the world I’d just left, you never spoke to your competitors. You studied them, sure, but only to find weaknesses in their offer to exploit for your own financial benefit. Yet I had so many fellow authors, competitors of mine, offering help and advice, whether in the craft of writing or how to generate more sales.

And some not only gave advice, they actively promoted my books. How was this possible? Surely these authors telling readers to buy my book meant those same readers wouldn’t buy the books of these authors? But I learnt very quickly that publishing is not a zero sum game. There are enough readers to accommodate all of us. Yes, many of us would love to sell more books, but the issue isn’t a lack of readers, it is a lack of awareness, and as us authors help promote each other, we help ourselves too.

Yet I think there is more to this than a simple “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” I’ve had authors I’ve only ever met through blogging and social media give up hours of their time to beta read my books. Not only have they done so willingly, they were thrilled to help. In my recent promotion, many authors shared and promoted what was happening. One author in particular sent out regular tweets to their followers informing them of my promotion, all unasked.

There was even one writer, knowing how much I loved cricket, who offered me tickets to see England play a test match at Lords as they had a ticket going spare. This was a writer I’d never met in person but purely through blogging. I am still bowled over by the kindness of this gesture, and how much fun that day was.

While not all authors are supportive, as not all in life take time to think of others, I’ve encountered so many examples of authors offering help and support to each other and celebrating the success of their peers – from multi-award winning authors down to those just starting out and every level in between –  that I believe there is something in the psychological makeup of writers, possibly linked to our ability to empathise with others, that encourages this warmth and support to each other.

And the best part is, it’s more enjoyable to give than receive. Over a year ago I started my Pay it Forward campaign. It was a little thing, really. I read a lot of books, so it was no hardship changing my reading habits to read more works by either self-published authors or those published via small presses and promoting this I liked, yet the longer it has gone on, the more I’ve enjoyed doing it and offering just a little exposure to those books I feel deserve it.

So the one piece of advice I would give to any new writer is to reach out to other writers. Don’t just read what people have to say, write a comment, get in contact. For the most part I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the reaction you’ll receive.

So what about you? What support have you received from other authors? Is there a particular act that stands out or is it more the ongoing encouragement you find helpful? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

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Pay it Forward – Beta Reading

Pay it forward

There are many ways an author can Pay it Forward to the writing community. The regular followers of this blog know I like to but books from fellow self-published authors and promote those I’ve most enjoyed via my Recommended Reads. This is a great way of giving something back to those who’ve supported you as a writer, either directly or indirectly, but I understand it can be cost prohibitive to some. However, there is another way authors can support authors, and that’s through beta reading.

The more eagle-eyed of you will have spotted I’ve not posted a new recommendation recently. This isn’t because I’ve been slacking with my reading but because I’ve taken the opportunity while my current WIP is resting to beta read for a couple of authors.

What is beta reading?

Beta reading is where you read an early version of a manuscript in order to identify the things that work and the things that don’t – from a reader’s perspective. The goal is to provide the author with information about their book which they can’t see themselves because they are too close to the story. The typical areas to proved feedback on are plot, pacing, characterisation, and prose.

My rules of beta reading

Providing any kind of feedback to an author is a sensitive area. There needs to be an element of openness and trust for it to work well. Because of this, there are certain unwritten rules I always try to take into account when beta reading:

  • Be honest. You’re job is to help the author produce the best book possible. Shying away from criticism doesn’t help the author. If something doesn’t work, tell the, but also tell them why. The same goes for when something comes across well. While a beta read will mostly pick up on the areas for improvement, it’s important to highlight the areas that work well.
  • Make sure the book is in a genre with which you’re familiar. There’s nothing worse than being asked to provide, or receiving, feedback from somebody who clearly doesn’t love the genre or style you’re writing in.
  • Judge the book from the perspective of its target audience. If you are reading a YA or MG novel, don’t complain at the unrealistic lack of custards or visceral description.
  • Ask if there is anywhere in particular on which to concentrate. Sometimes a writer will have concerns about certain scenes in their book, either because it isn’t working, or as I had in Second Chance, because of the nature of the content. Make sure you’re aware of these beforehand so you can give them your full attention.
  • Explain your own strengths and weaknesses beforehand. When I beta read I’m good at judging the tone and pacing of a novel, OK at characterisation but poor at picking up typos or grammar issues (I can just see my editor nodding his head in agreement). Let the author know where you can and can’t help, so they have the chance to get the other areas checked elsewhere.
  • Remember you’re trying to help the author write their book. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of looking at how you would write the book or make changes to the storyline. This isn’t the goal of beta reading. Saying you didn’t like the ending because it didn’t provide closure for character X is good feedback. Saying you disliked the ending because if you’d written the book character X would have ridden that candy-coloured unicorn into the sunset instead of carried on as a janitor, is not.
  • Yours is only one opinion. Good authors ask feedback from many sources because everybody has a different opinion. When I’m writing, if all my beta readers say there is a problem in a certain scene, I’ll know it’s an issue. If only one does, while another loves the same scene, I know I need to use my judgement. Don’t be surprised if the author doesn’t take everything you say on board.
  • Don’t forget to question? If you are unsure about something, ask the question. As a reader you miss things so there may be times where a simple ‘have you mentioned this before?’ is much better than complaining about an issue that isn’t there.

How do I feedback?

What I like to do is provide a report looking at the different areas – plot, pacing, characterisation, and prose – so the author has a clear idea of the major areas to focus on. I then like to send back the actual document if possible, with comments, so the author can see exactly where things could be improved, or areas I particularly love. My document comments tend to be a little more direct than in the report, because they are how I felt at the time, but this is no different to how I would assess my own work.

The benefits of beta reading

Beta reading is hard work but very rewarding. Not only does it provide really useful support for your fellow authors, it also helps you improve your own writing too. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve picked up an area for improvement in an author’s work, only to realise I’ve done the same thing myself. I know my writing has improved since I started beta reading.

Because it can be a lot of work, most writers find it difficult to locate good, experienced beta readers. Yet writers are the best beta readers around, so offering somebody the chance to read their work is an enormous favour. At the same time, be understanding if you ask somebody to beta read for you and they turn you down. The only reason I’m beta reading at the moment is because I have a short writing break. In a couple of weeks I’ll be back to purely concentrating on my own book.

So, if you are looking for another way of Paying It Forward to your fellow writers, why don’t you offer up your services as a beta reader? Not only will you be providing invaluable help, you might get to learn something about your own writing too.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

 

A Year of Paying It Forward

Pay it forward

A year ago almost to the day I had an epiphany. At the time I was spending an awful lot of effort encouraging people to buy my recently published book, Second Chance, but realised every book I’d bought myself up until that point was published by one of the major publishers. I’d not bought, or read, an indie book, yet here I was trying to persuade others to buy mine.

The reason for not buying indie wasn’t snobbery but laziness. I bought books from authors I knew. I rarely tried anything new, and it was even rarer for me to read outside of my favourite genre comfort zone. Yet I’d received lots of support from the indie writing community, both how to write and publish a book, as well as lifting me up when my spirits were down. I knew I wanted to do something to pay the community back and support my fellow writers. This was when Pay It Forward was born.

The concept was, and is, simple. I buy books from my fellow indie authors. I started with those that supported the writing community (although not necessarily me specifically), giving them a much needed sale and chart position boost. As a bonus, I would promote those books I really enjoyed on this blog as well as leaving reviews on Amazon (.com & .co.uk) and Goodreads.

In the year since I’ve bought sixty-one indie books and been given another three for free. Of those I’ve read all but seven. They have varied in genre and style from thrillers to chick-lit, cosy mysteries to literary fiction, along with a number of books from my beloved fantasy and science fiction. Most have been novels but I’ve also discovered a love for the short story form I never knew I had.

There isn’t a single book I’ve regretted purchasing.

That doesn’t mean I’ve enjoyed them all, but I know each purchase has given a boost, if just a small one, to writers who deserve it. Pay It Forward has been a wonderful experience and one I recommend for any indie author. I’ve not only enjoyed some wonderful books and broadened my reading palette, I’ve also got to know some of a number of those writers along the way and consider some of them as friends.

Out of the 54 books read, I’ve loved 32 of them enough to recommend them on this blog, which in my eyes puts paid to the nonsense that all self-published books are rubbish. In fact, as time’s gone on my criteria for recommending a book has tightened, and while I stand by every recommendation I’ve made, there are books I’ve recently read and haven’t recommended that may have made the cut when I first started this process, which shows just how good many of these books are.

The other thing that’s changed is that I now also Pay It Forward to books by supportive authors that are published via a small press as I’ve learnt in the past year that it’s just as difficult for these authors to get noticed as it is for us indies.

So if you’re an author who’s benefitted from the wonderfully supportive indie community and would like to give something back, I cannot recommend Paying It Forward enough. All you need to do to get going is purchase one book. Start with a book an author who’s supported you in some way, either directly or indirectly, and then broaden from there. Don’t be afraid to try genres you wouldn’t normally read, you might be surprised. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll enjoy every book you buy, but I’m sure there’ll be many you will, and if you do, don’t forget to let the world know.

My favourite Recommended Reads from the past year

Below are my favourite indie books from the past year. This doesn’t mean I enjoyed them more than any of the others that I’ve read but they are the ones that have somehow stuck with me and that I’ve thought of most often. I heartily recommend you give them a try.

The cover of the book Duck, showing a picture of a bomb on an orange backgroundDuck by Stephen Parolini

“Duck is a short story about Thomas Lingonberry, a young boy growing up in 1950’s USA who’s life changes when a bomb lands on his desk. We follow Thomas on his journey of love and discovery, as the fallout from that day resonates through. It is a wonderful and warmly written coming-of-age tale. Stephen Parolini draws you into a world which while alien to someone of my age and nationality was also strangely familiar. He brings to life beautifully the memory of young love and my only complaint was that it ended.”

You can buy Duck from Amazon.co.uk here and from Amazon.com here.

othellasmallerOthella by Therin Knite

“This book works on two levels. On the one hand it is a fast-paced, science-fiction thriller, on the other a treatise on the moral grey area of the good of the whole over the good of the individual. Knite’s writing style is tight, hard-edged and uncompromising; as if Raymond Chandler decided to have a go at re-imagining Hunger Games. I was hooked from first page to the brutal finale.”

“I’ve read and enjoyed many self-published novels but this is the first one I wish I’d written. I cannot wait for its sequel.”

Othella by Therin Knite is available from all major ebook retailers. To buy click here

yesterday road small-coverYesterday Road by Kevin Brennan

“This is a beautiful book. In Yesterday Road, Brennan has created a unique tale that is warm-hearted and generous in spirit. As the story progressed it became very easy to form a bond with each of the main characters: Joe Easterhouse conveys the warmth and love like so many people with Downs Syndrome have, and Ida Peevey is the person we all hope we would be in a similar situation. But the true strength of Brennan’s writing comes is shown when we travel with Jack and see the world through his eyes. This combination of childlike wonder and regret at what he has forgotten, gives the story it’s warmth, humour and poignancy.”

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.com click here

The Me You See largeThe Me You See by Shay Ray Stevens

“Stevens has successfully pieced together a compelling narrative based around the memories of Stefia’s friends and family. The timeline jumps back and forth, covering important events from Stefia’s life, each a step along the path to the opening shooting. What would be confusing in the hands of another author flows effortlessly due to Stevens’ skilful handling of both plot and characterisation. Each new character’s perspective feels real and unique, not an easy thing to do. It was very easy to become engrossed in the mystery of what happened. As new aspects of Stefia’s personality and life were revealed, I found myself racing through the pages to find out more.”

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.com click here

gzcoverfinal-smallerGreen Zulu 51 by Scott Whitmore

“Green Zulu 51 (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) is listed as a set of short stories set in a future world where one of old Earth’s colonies finds itself embroiled in a war with a relentless alien aggressor.”

“Whitmore has a wonderfully natural style, clearly bringing in a lot of his own military experience to the fore in painting the very ancient experience of life on the front line in a futuristic war. Each character has their own perspectives, are well rounded and immediately draw you into their world. While the battles (whether in space or on the ground) are well written and compelling, it is the human stories that make this book a stand out.”

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.com click here

The Whisper of StarsThe Whisper of Stars by Nick Jones

“With The Whisper of Stars, Nick Jones has combined detective, espionage and near-future dystopian thriller genres to produce a cracking story that is both compelling and makes you think about the challenges we face in the future. Each chapter draws you into the world Jones has created, one that is both futuristic and very, very real, with neural implants rubbing shoulders with a night down the pub with friends. As the story progresses Jones gradually reveals a dark vision of the future, where those in power are forced to make difficult decisions which in turn become further corrupted by the desire to manipulate and control.”

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.com click here

On hearing of my mother's death six years after it happenedOn Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

“A heart-wrenching look into life of the author, as a teenaged girl, being raised by a mother with mental illness, written plainly but beautifully, with no embellishment or self-justification. By the end you feel in awe of the author for having survived the ordeal, although as is made clear, it’s not clear if the effects of the experience have ever actually ended.”

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.com click here

 

Fear of the bad review

The biggest fear of any author is that people will hate their work. All authors suffer with this anxiety to a greater or lesser extent; whether they have a history of success or are just starting out; whether they are traditionally published or self-published. In fact, the fear is greater for a self-published author because they don’t necessarily have the sense of validation that winning and agent and a publishing contract provides (not that this is any salve for anxious traditionally published authors). To publish you need to overcome this fear but sadly, for many, they never do. You need to be a special kind of masochist to become a writer.

I’ve spoken in previous posts about how you cannot write something that everybody likes. It’s impossible. Why? Because the things that makes a book interesting and engaging are different for different people. Some people love flowery prose, others detest it. Some like their action loud, with explosions; others prefer the explosions to remain on the inside. The best, most revered books receive one-star reviews, as this wonderful post by Heather Hill explains, so at some point in your career you should expect to receive a bad review (or two).

Even if you have written a wonderful novel and it has reached the right kind of reader, there is another factor that could lead to a bad review. Let me explain.

Like most of you who have self-published, the first people to buy Second Chance were family, friends and acquaintances. This was both a good and a bad thing. The good part was that my book charted, giving me visibility and the sales boost that provides. The bad news was that I knew a lot of people who had bought my book, and the urge to ask them their opinion was almost overwhelming.

Here’s a tip: people you know who bought your book, read it and liked it, will tell you without you having to ask. This is a wonderful feeling. Those that don’t approach you? The chances are the book wasn’t their kind of thing but they’re too polite to say.

Of course, being a newly published author, I didn’t know this. So I asked. Most still hadn’t read my book but one or two had. One particularly good friend owned up said she didn’t like my book. She had tried to read it but she couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t the type of thing she normally read (you will hear this a lot if you’re a genre writer) and it just wasn’t her thing. I took it on the chin, mainly because she hadn’t said I was a terrible writer (my biggest fear) but that the style and genre wasn’t to her liking.

Six months or so later this same friend published a glowing review of Second Chance on Facebook, telling all her friends to buy it, even those that “don’t normally read sci-fi because it really is that good.” She even provided a link. I was obviously delighted (especially with the resultant sales spike) but also a little surprised. The next time I saw her I asked why the change of mind? Her answer got me thinking. She told me that what had changed was her frame of mind. The first time she attempted to read my book there were a number of distractions going on in her life that meant when she did get a chance to read, she couldn’t fully concentrate on what I’d written. It was only once she was on holiday that she could give my book the proper attention. Once she had the right mindset, she really enjoyed my book.

It was one of those eureka moments but one I should have recognised because there are a couple books on my Pay it Forward reading list with which I’ve also struggled. I’ve tried to read them both, more than once, but have been unable to get into them. Not because they are poorly written (quite the contrary), or that the stories aren’t interesting, but because they are aimed at a younger audience and I’ve been unable to make the mental switch from the type of adult fiction I write and usually read to appreciate them properly. It would have been easy just to write them off but the problem isn’t with the books themselves, but with me. And it is something we should all recognise. For example, how many of you have tried to read a book and failed, only to come back to it later and love it? I have. Lots of times. So these books remain on my reading list until I’m ready to give them the justice they deserve.

So what are the books you either hated on the first read, or failed to get on with, only to love on a subsequent attempt? I’d love to hear from you.

Recommended Reads: Yesterday Road by Kevin Brennan

yesterday road small-cover

I’ve been enjoying Kevin Brennan’s blog, What the Hell, for a while now. It has a great mix of articles on writing, his favourite music, as well as his occasional exasperation at the publishing business. Yesterday Road had always been on my ‘to read’ list but it wasn’t until it was recommended by Susan Toy on her Island Editions blog that I finally took the plunge and bought it. I’m so glad I did (if that isn’t an example on the power of word-of-mouth recommendations, I don’t know what is).

Yesterday Road tells the tale of Jack, an old man looking for something but unsure exactly what that something is. Jack has trouble with his memory. He can’t remember what happened the day before, and those images he can remember have little meaning. He has also lost his wallet and his ID; all he has is a cutout picture of a handsome young man in his pocket. Yet with the help of others – some kind, some less so – Jack undertakes a journey that not only helps him find what he is looking for, but also find out who he really is.

This is a beautiful book. In Yesterday Road, Brennan has created a unique tale that is warm-hearted and generous in spirit. As the story progressed it became very easy to form a bond with each of the main characters: Joe Easterhouse conveys the warmth and love like so many people with Downs Syndrome have, and Ida Peevey is the person we all hope we would be in a similar situation. But the true strength of Brennan’s writing comes is shown when we travel with Jack and see the world through his eyes. This combination of childlike wonder and regret at what he has forgotten, gives the story it’s warmth, humour and poignancy. There were a few moments where I had to put my inner-cynic to one side as Brennan clearly believes in the triumph of people’s better nature, but my experience was all the better for it, especially the latter part of the book which brought on tears of both sadness and joy. Highly Recommended.

While writing this post I’ve just seen Yesterday Road is currently on offer for 99c / 77p. This is an absolute steal. What are you waiting for? 

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.com click here

 

 

Pay It Forward – an update

Pay it forward

It’s been four months since I wrote my original Pay It Forward post. For those unaware, I came to the realisation that I only bought books from traditional publishers and decided it was time to support my fellow self-published authors by buying their books and promoting those that I enjoyed both on this blog and through leaving reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

Since the original post I’ve bought over 20 books from self-published authors in a wide variety of genres and styles. This sounds like a lot of investment but it only cost me a little more than the equivalent cost of one traditionally published book per month. As with any selection of books there were some that didn’t work for me (although I am sure they would be liked by other readers), but I have been pleasantly surprised by just how many I have enjoyed, including a new-found love for the short story format. The only downside is the number of books sitting on my ever-growing ‘to be read’ list.

Below is a summary of those books I have enjoyed to date, with a links on how to purchase. Please give them a try, you won’t be disappointed. And if you are a self-published author, if you aren’t doing it already, I encourage you to support your fellow authors in a similar way. I think you’ll also be pleasantly surprised.

 

Duck by Stephen Parolini

The cover of the book Duck, showing a picture of a bomb on an orange backgroundDuck is a short story about Thomas Lingonberry, a young boy growing up in 1950’s USA who’s life changes when a bomb lands on his desk. We follow Thomas on his journey of  love and discovery, as the fallout from that day resonates through. It is a wonderful and warmly written coming-of-age tale. Stephen Parolini draws you into a world which while alien to someone of my age and nationality was also strangely familiar. He brings to life beautifully the memory of young love and my only complaint was that it ended. Highly recommended.

You can buy Duck from Amazon.co.uk here and from Amazon.com here.

 

 

The Prying Game by David Palin

resource

If you found an old post-it note in a bush with a telephone number on it, would you call it? That’s the opening premise of The Prying Game, a wonderfully written novella by David Palin. It’s dark, erotic psychological thriller that twists and turns in unexpected ways. If you are looking for an intelligent page-turner with genuine surprises then this is the book for you.

You can by The Prying Game from Amazon.co.uk here and from Amazon.com here.

 

 

 The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin

Seneca Scourge

The Seneca Scourge is a great, fast-paced medical thriller, with a twist. The heroine, Dr Sydney McKnight, is asked to work with the eccentric Dr Casper Jones to fight what looks to be an deadly outbreak of a previously benign form of influenza. As the situation deteriorates, the behaviour of her partner raises different, more serious concerns.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a well written, easy read with characters you believed in and a plot that kept you guessing to the last. I was concerned to start off with with the amount of medical terminology but I needn’t have been; Rubin explained things in a way that any layman could understand. There is a point halfway through the book where the story takes a very different turn from the usual medical thriller but I urge you to go with it, because you will be well rewarded. Highly recommended.

You can buy the Seneca Scourge from Amazon.com here and from Amazon.co.uk here.

 

 Ravens Gathering by Graeme Cumming

Ravens Gathering

I really enjoyed Ravens Gathering. Graeme Cumming captures perfectly life in a close-nit hamlet. When one of their own returns, strange things start to happen and it is the newcomer and outsiders that shoulder the blame, at least at first.

From the insular outlook, mistrust of outsiders and the ongoing friction between locals; everything has an air of authenticity about it. History weighs heavily on all, and it’s only during the second half of the book that you truly begin to understand why.

While the writing style is straightforward, Cumming likes to play tricks on his readers, meaning passages you thought you understood are revealed to have a different meaning later on. If, like me, you enjoy piecing a story together as you read and having your initial expectations confounded, you’ll enjoy Ravens Gathering.

You can buy the Ravens Gathering from Amazon.com here and from Amazon.co.uk here.

 

Moondust Memories by Vaughn Stanger

Moondust Memories

This is a great collection of speculative fiction short stories. Stanger shows his breadth of range, moving from alternate history to pure science fiction whilst keeping us entertained with a range of interesting, well-rounded characters and scenarios. Whether writing about an alternate version of Mallory’s tragic attempt on Everest, alien first contact or the all to real possible ending had the cuban missile crisis ended differently; Stanger brings warmth and humanity to each story, allowing us to view the various what ifs and possibilities at a very personal level.

The tell-tale sign of great speculative fiction is that you are still thinking about it days after you finish reading. This has been the case for me with Moondust Memories. Highly recommended.

You can buy the Moondust Memories from Amazon.com here and from Amazon.co.uk here.

 

Identity Part 1 by Claire Duffy

identity

This wonderfully dark & complex nordic thriller comes with plenty of twists and turns. Don’t be fooled by the “part 1”, this is a self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion. However, if you like your stories to follow a comfortable, predictable path where you know where you are at all times then this book is not for you. The narrative is split between a number of charter’s viewpoints and location. This can be confusing at first because other than a page break there is no indication of you moving from one scene to the next, however don’t be put off. Once you become used to the structure the story unfolds at a rapid pace and you will be rewarded by a gripping tale where your gradually built assumptions are continually pulled out from under you.

The writing style can be a little rough around the edges at times, especially early on, but one of the pleasures I gained while reading the story was to see Duffy’s confidence develop as the book progressed. All in all a really enjoyable mystery and I can’t wait to find out what she has in store for us in part 2. Recommended.

To buy Identity Part 1 from amazon.co.uk click here
To buy Identity Part 1 from amazon.com click here

 

The New Mrs D by Heather Hill

new-mrs-d-cover-design-smaller

It’s safe to say I’m not the target demographic for The new Mrs D but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying the book. In it we follow the eponymous Mrs D. as she embarks on what she thinks is the start of her honeymoon but soon becomes a voyage of self-discovery. While I may not have been able to relate to the main character directly myself, I know a number of people that share some of her characteristics and it didn’t take long to get sucked into her adventures. While reading I smiled a lot, even laughing out loud on occasion.

The book generally has the light touch but Hill isn’t afraid to explore some tougher themes in an open and honest way. For the most part, though, it stays true to its roots – a good, light-hearted comedy. Yes, the plot is heavily signposted at times, there are one or two clichéd characters and the story occasionally strays into the area of cheese, but this is cheese in a good way, like Dirty Dancing or Abba Gold. If you enjoyed Bridget Jones or Shirley Valentine then this is the ideal holiday read for you. Highly recommended.

To buy The New Mrs D from amazon.co.uk click here
To buy The New Mrs D from amazon.com click here

 

Contract of Defiance by Tammy Salyer

salyer_spectra_defiance_ebookedition

Contract of Defiance is a blast from the opening paragraph to the closing page. We follow the story of Aly, a smuggler and ex-military fugitive who becomes separated from her brother and crew on a botched job. She is rescued by a group of hardened settlers and becomes embroiled in a series of adventures that take her further from her goal of rescuing her brother and at the same time raises questions about what really went wrong.

Salyer has created a very believable future where a dominant military forces good people onto the wrong side of the law. While the story contains plenty of action to keep things going, it is the characters that draw you in. In Aly you have a strong, female protagonist who is no caricature. She is flawed, makes mistakes but continues to struggle against what life throws at her in order to save her brother.

As the motivations of the support cast are revealed, you realise what a fantastic job Salyer has done to create an ensemble of characters of real depth while at no point slowing the plot through overuse of back story or exposition. Another thing I really liked about this book was that each act of killing has an impact on the characters involved and isn’t purely there as entertainment. There are consequences for each and every action and Salyer isn’t afraid to show them.

If you like the fantasy of Joe Abercrombie or Glen Cook, or if you are a fan of the film Aliens, you will love this really enjoyable book. Highly recommended.

To buy Contract of Defiance from amazon.co.uk click here
To buy Contract of Defiance from amazon.com click here

Since writing this review I’ve also read the follow up books in the series – Contract of Betrayal and Contract of War – both of which maintain the excellent standard of the first.

 

Othella: Arcadian Heights #1 by Therin Knite

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What a fantastic read. It is 60 years in the future and civilisation is close to collapse. To save the world, hard decisions need to be taken. The best scientists are brought to Arcadian Heights – a purpose-built oasis in this crumbling world – with one goal: to develop technologies to avert disaster. But how far do you go before those trying save humanity end up losing theirs?

The book is written from the point-of-view of three main characters: Quentin – a spokesman for Arcadian Heights, Georgette McClain – a hard-nosed investigative reporter, and Marco Salt; each tied to what is happening in Arcadian Heights for reasons that become clear as the book progresses. The first two-thirds of the book switch not just between the different character’s points of view but also varying timelines, so I would recommend you pay attention. However, this structure worked perfectly to draw me into the world and lives Knite created.

This book works on two levels. On the one hand it is a fast-paced, science-fiction thriller, on the other a treatise on the moral grey area of the good of the whole over the good of the individual. Knite’s writing style is tight, hard-edged and uncompromising; as if Raymond Chandler decided to have a go at re-imagining Hunger Games. I was hooked from first page to the brutal finale.

I’ve read and enjoyed many self-published novels but this is the first one I wish I’d written. I cannot wait for its sequel.

Othella by Therin Knite is available from all major ebook retailers. To buy click here

Recommended Reads: The new Mrs D. by Heather Hill

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One of the best things since starting my Pay it Forward campaign has been reading new genres and styles of books that I would never have looked at previously. I’ve read literary fiction, memoirs; short-stories of every genre and some great horror and science-fiction. For my next recommended read – having met the author Heather Hill on twitter and finding her very funny – I got a chance to enter the world of chick-lit.

It’s safe to say I’m not the target demographic for The new Mrs D but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying the book. In it we follow the eponymous Mrs D. as she embarks on what she thinks is the start of her honeymoon but soon becomes a voyage of self-discovery. While I may not have been able to relate to the main character directly myself, I know a number of people that share some of her characteristics and it didn’t take long to get sucked into her adventures. While reading I smiled a lot, even laughing out loud on occasion.

The book generally has the light touch but Hill isn’t afraid to explore some tougher themes in an open and honest way. For the most part, though, it stays true to its roots – a good, light-hearted comedy. Yes, the plot is heavily signposted at times, there are one or two clichéd characters and the story occasionally strays into the area of cheese, but this is cheese in a good way, like Dirty Dancing or Abba Gold. If you enjoyed Bridget Jones or Shirley Valentine then this is the ideal holiday read for you. Highly recommended.

To buy The New Mrs D from amazon.co.uk click here
To buy The New Mrs D from amazon.com click here

I’d also recommend you follow Heather Hill on twitter @Hell4Heather

Recommended reads are independently published books that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Pay it forward – 6 weeks on

Pay it forward

When I wrote my original Pay It Forward post, I had little idea of the reaction it would cause. It was largely written as a statement of intent for myself. Why should I, as a self-published author, expect people to buy my work when I didn’t buy books from other self-published authors myself? I decided to change my behaviour, with the aim of purchasing and reading the work of those I had met since beginning this journey and promoting those books I’d enjoyed.

At the same time, I wondered how many other self-published authors bought work from their peers.  The final paragraph – where do you come in – was written in the hope that one or two of my fellow authors would be converted to the cause of paying it forward. It was added mostly as an afterthought. My think was that maybe my thoughts would influence one or two others to join in and spread the love too.

I should have known better.

Since starting out as a writer I have found many wonderful, supportive people from within the writing community, and the pay it forward post has introduced me to many more. It has become the most viewed, most commented and most liked post I’ve written to date. I’ve lost count of the number of  times it has been re-blogged and retweeted. Since first published it has gone on to have a life of its own. There may be days go by without me hearing a mention of the post before it once more springs back to life as it is discovered by another writers. You only have to read the comments in the original post to see the many wonderful people committed to the idea.

The other thing I have learnt is that it wasn’t an original idea. Many authors had come to the same conclusion long before I had and have been reviewing or promoting books from independent authors they admire. I have never been so pleased to have people approach me to say “welcome to the party.” I’m just sorry it took me so long.

In the six weeks since starting down this road I have read a number of self-published books. Without fail, all have been well written and presented. One or two weren’t for me, but that was more likely a failing on my part rather than the author’s; they still received my money and the statistical uptick from my sale. Those I have enjoyed have been promoted here under recommended reads, as well as receiving a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

One unexpected benefit of starting this process has been discovering how much I enjoy reading short stories. It is a format I’ve avoided in the past (I know, burn the heathen) as I like getting buried in large novels, or novel series, but I’ve really enjoyed the novellas and short story anthologies I’ve read to date and will look them up more often in the future.

An important part of my personal ethos I haven’t mentioned so far about paying it forward is around what I hope to get out of it. The short answer is: nothing. For this concept to work well any support has to be given freely, without obligation. I would be horrified if any author I’ve featured felt obligated to do the same for my work in return. I would, however, be delighted if they decided to pay it forward to self-published authors they have enjoyed (if they haven’t already) but that’s a choice for each individual alone.

So finally I would like to thank everybody who has contacted me, everybody who has committed to pay it forward from now on; all those wonderful people who have been doing this for a while now. I have been truly humbled by the reaction of the self-published community, of which I’m proud to be a member. And if you are a self-published author new to the concept, I would urge you to consider giving it a go. All you have to do is every now and then choose to buy an independently published book and if you enjoy it, tell everyone. That’s it. Simple, eh?

Pay it forward

Pay it forward

I’ve been thinking a lot recently on the difficulties faced by independent authors like myself. The indie author community is very supportive of each other when it comes to the writing process. We encourage and congratulate, offer tips and advice, yet when it comes to talking about independent books we tend to focus predominantly on our own work. I am as guilty of this as many. But a number of things have happened recently that have made me decide to change.

How independent musicians support each other

As some of you long-term readers will know, I used to review the monthly Live at the Cottage gig that is held every month in my local village. These gigs attract high quality unsigned acts, most of which make a living through performing live and selling their independently produced CD’s. There are many similarities between what they are doing and what we, as independent authors, are looking to achieve, and that is to make what they produce available and seen by the widest audience possible.

One thing that has impressed me with many of these musicians is their generosity to their fellow performers. Despite the falling number of live music venues, these musicians often recommend other artists to venues and promoters, as well as offering support slots to give others artists chance to become better known. The other thing that they are happy to do is put their money where their mouth is and buy the work of other independent artists. I spoke to a couple of artists at a recent gig and when they found out I was an independent author they both bought my book without hesitation. Why? Well in the words of one “you’ve paid to see me, it’s the least I can do.”

Book club

I was approached the other day by somebody who had bought my book to tell me how much she had enjoyed it, even though it was “not the type of book she would normally read.” I’ve heard this a number of times from different people, and the phrase is also used in a couple of Amazon reviews. What she said next, though, was great. She used to read all the same type of book but then joined a book club to get her out of her comfort zone. Since then she has discovered a number of books that she loves which she would never have read otherwise. She also said she would recommend my book for them to read (which was very kind).

Promotional sites

There are a number of sites that offer to promote your books. Some are very effective, having built up mailing lists and being selective about what they promote, but many use twitter to bombard you with promos every two minutes. I’ve also seen a number of indie authors use the same tactic, whether to promote their own work or in promoting the work of others. There may be some mileage in this because why do it otherwise, but to me it just comes across as noise. When somebody recommends a book, I want to believe they have read it and enjoyed it.

So where is this leading?

I buy and read a lot of books yet very few, until recently, have been written by independent authors. I have been happy to take advantage of  the many free books on offer – often the first in a series – but rarely move on to buying the next in line. Most of the books I do read are by established authors and like my good blogging friend Jools said in her most recent blog, I am a completer. Once I’ve read a book from an author I like, I want to read everything that they read. This leaves very little time for anyone new to get a look in.

Yet at the same time as an indie author I am desperate for people to buy my book and leave a review. A number of people have been kind enough to do this, but there is a long way to go before I could say I was earning enough to live on, and I know that most indie authors are face the same issues. So it is a little hypocritical of me to on the one hand ask people to buy my book yet not do the same for others.

Pay it forward

I’ve decided that it was time to put something back into the indie author community. I will commit to buying (actually I’ve already started) books by other independent authors, being open-minded about genre or type, initially focussing on those I have discovered through blogging. If I like the book I will post about it on this site under a new series called Recommended Reads. This won’t be a traditional review – if I don’t like a book I’ve bought I won’t say anything (because the fault may well sit with me) – but a series of recommendations of those books I genuinely like. I will also post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. This will help spread provide  exposure as well as a genuine sale. Even for those books that weren’t for me there will be a benefit, as they too will get an extra sale, bumping the book up the charts giving much-needed visibility.

Where do you come in?

I’d like to start a supportive community of indie authors, similar to what I’ve seen with the indie musicians. If you are an indie author, or you are a prospective author, or even if you are a friend of an independent author; I would encourage you to do the same me and commit to buying work from lesser known indie authors. Many authors blog, or have Facebook or Twitter accounts. If you like a books you buy, pay it forward and tell people about it. Write an Amazon or Goodreads review. It will take only a few minutes but as you know it would mean a lot to the author concerned. Even a small number of us doing this will make a big difference, but the more that take part, the more we can support our community.

If you are interested in getting involved, please feel free to reblog this to help get the momentum going. I’m halfway through my first indie book (which I’m loving) and hope to get post about my first recommended read next week.

Thank you for your time.