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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to find a BetaReader

Finding someone who will consent to read your baby for free, and give educated, but kind advice is probably about as hard as finding an agent or a publisher.

However, there are avid readers on GoodReads who have formed a group where you just might be able to find a few who are willing to read your baby and so forth.

It looks good, and certainly well-intentioned.  I haven't met anyone who has tried this, either on or off the internet.  Any comments from those who have?

The invaluable Belinda Pollard has a few more ideas on her Small Blue Dog blog.

Number one is a very strong suggestion.


Not only will they critique your work, but they will tell you if it should be writers' group or writer's group.

I have mixed feelings about writer's (or writers') groups.  I have talked to some, and have always wondered why they are sitting there listening to me instead of sitting at their computers or lined jotter pads, or whatever.  You know what I mean.  Writing.

Also, there are jealousies involved.  Rosen Trevithick has a very funny portrayal of a writers' group made up of competitive women in her very funny book, My Granny Writes EroticaAs we all know, women can be catty, in thought if not in actual word.

It is also only going to work if the other members are keen on the same kind of writing that you are.  It is no good belonging to a group if you write techno-thrillers and they write hot romances -- unless, of course, your character list includes a few passionate robots.

Part of the job of a BetaReader is fact checking, which means that if you are writing a novel about scuba divers, you're not going to get much out of experts in flower arranging.  So, be careful about what kind of writers' group you decide to join.

Another very good idea is to use social media.  The GoodReads group is only one example of what you can find on the internet. LinkedIn has similar groups.  Those people you chat to through twitter, Facebook, or by email might develop enough interest through hints you've dropped about your book to want to have a look.

An idea of my own is to ask people who have a special interest in your area -- scuba diving or flower arranging or whatever -- to supply a blurb.  Flattery will get you everywhere, and in the process of composing the dozen words you will proudly display on the back cover they might drop a few hints that will help when polishing your final draft.  They will certainly tell you if you have any of your facts wrong.

Good luck.  And remember to be politely grateful.
Because they can use social media, too.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Whale in Wellington

A friend in Island Bay emailed in obvious excitement -- a "real" whale was coasting by his house.

"It was about 2 car lengths long, and the right fin of it's tail was at least 5 metres long," he said.

They didn't measure whales like that in the old days.

And, despite what looks like a long dorsal fin out there, it is not an orca.  It's a humpback, evidently strayed from his (or her) pod on the migration route through the Tasman Sea to Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.

The Dominion Post has more.

A humpback whale has been spotted near Island Bay.
Island Bay Marine Education Centre discovery programme manager Julian Hodge said the whale had been at the surface for about 15 minutes before diving under water again, about 10am. 
It had just returned to the surface and was doing tail flips.
It was about 80 metres off the coast, near Princess Bay.

Apparently, it is cavorting with surf boards and dive boats.

That didn't happen in the old days, either.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

BetaReading for Dummies

For the first time in my life, quite recently, I was addressed as a BetaReader.

It felt rather cute. I was sent a manuscript to read and assess, and at the end I was asked, as the draft's BetaReader, a number of very sensible questions.

Did the narrative style work? Was there anything about the story that seemed forced? What, if anything, dragged on too long? What, if anything, was treated too quickly, or too lightly, and needed extending? Any suggestions for a better title?  And, probably most important of all, did I think the novel was ready for publication?

A BetaReader, according to Wikipedia, that great encyclopedia in the sky, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. 

BetaReaders are not professionals. They may have been proofreaders, copyeditors, or editors in their Other Lives; they may even be book reviewers, and it is very likely that they are writers, too. But in this case they are looking at the manuscript as an unpaid favor.

If they are doing the job properly, they will point out holes in the plot, inconsistencies, confusions, and anything else that makes your book not quite as good as it should be. If you are lucky, they are knowledgeable enough about your setting or subject to be willing to do a little fact-checking on the side.

There's a lot on the internet about finding BetaReaders, how to treat them, what to expect of them, and how to be a BetaReader yourself.  One is Belinda Pollard's "What Makes a Good BetaReader" on her SmallBlueDog publishing blog.

What should you look for in a BetaReader?

Someone who is representative of your target audience, that's what. That is partly why our Old Salt Press cooperative works so well: all Old Salt Press writers are maritime writers who really know their stuff, and we are all each others' BetaReaders.  Our books are aimed at discriminating readers who love stories about the sea, and so what better BetaReaders could we have?

Secondly, you need a BetaReader who is willing to be open and honest, but who is able to state forthright opinions without destroying the faith you have in your book.  This means that you don't want a personal friend who is too fond of you to be critical; you want someone who is not afraid to tell the truth, but not in an unkind way.

And how do you work with a BetaReader?

A good summary of this is "5 Things you Should Know About Working with Beta Readers" by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas on Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer website.

Their first recommendation is to give your BetaReader a clean, polished manuscript.  I have slightly mixed feelings about this, as I find it harder, somehow, to be open, honest and critical about a clean, polished manuscript.  For some reason it is easier to make suggestions when it still looks like a draft, particularly when suggesting major changes.  

Secondly, give it to them in the form they like best -- which means asking what form they prefer.  Or, alternatively, you can send it in several forms, such as .doc, .pdf, and .mobi.  Personally, I am happy with .doc. I save it, send it to myself at Kindle, and then read it on my Kindle or iPad. 

Third, let them know what you want from them.  An excellent way of doing this is to have a checklist of questions, like the list I gave at the head of this post. Do you want the manuscript copyedited, with track changes?  Or do you shudder at the thought of getting a copyedited ms back? Tell them, if so, and save yourself (and your BetaReader) a lot of grief.

Four is really, really important.  Be professional.  Don't take the criticisms personally. Understand that your BetaReader is well-intentioned, and honestly wants the book to be ten times better.  If you just want a pat on the back and to be told what a magnificent beast your manuscript is, don't bother with a BetaReader.

The fifth suggestion in this list is to be willing to return the favor.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

An author's view of Kindle Unlimited

Thoughts from the author of the Olive Quintrell series.

A guest post from M. C. Muir

While Kindle Unlimited (a promotional venture for e-book sales to avid readers) may not be popular with authors whose books command a good price, I can only commend this latest project from the early results I am getting.

Firstly, though only in it's infancy of several weeks, I am already showing 50% more sales on the US market. 

However, the Kindle Unlimited offer does not appear to apply to the UK market.

These sales, which register as KU/KOLL units on your kindle monthly report, are only available if you are registered with the Kindle SELECT program (this means Amazon has exclusive sales rights to sell your e-books). 

Secondly, my July return shows that these sales were worth $2.24 per book. This is an across-the-board return irrespective of the book's retail price.

For me, as an Indie author, living in Australia, of my books that I retail at US$2.99, I receive 70% or $2.06 each, therefore the KU return of $2.24 is most acceptable. This amount will vary according to the amount of money which flows into the Kindle Unlimited pool - but I can only see it increasing, albeit only slightly.

Worth looking into it you are not already a Kindle Select author.


Friday, August 29, 2014

How much should you charge for your eBook?

The problem of what you should charge for an eBook has become even more intriguing of late, what with the Amazon-Hachette stoush, where Amazon is trying to force the prices of digital books down.

Is this right?  Is it catering to an unfortunate traditional publisher view that eBooks are the cheap end of the market?  Looking back in history, that's what happened when paperbacks first came out.  They were cheap and nasty -- "pulp fiction."  But then they took off, until there were the levels of paperback quality that we find today. Classic reprints, mass market romances, perfect bound books, and that replacement for heavy hardbacks, the clothbound book have all sprung from the first paperbacks, which were meant to be carried in pockets, and read on railroad trains.

And they are all differently priced, which doesn't help when trying to decide what to charge for your baby. Rosen Trevithick, author of How NOT to ePublish, discusses it in a blog column called...

You Want to Charge £14.99 for Your eBook
Well, you put countless hours into writing, composing, checking, and polishing (says I), so why not?

Because it won't sell, that's why.

"When deciding how to price your book," says Rosen, "you must forget completely how long it took you to write, how much it cost to edit, and how truly brilliant it really is. Instead focus only on the value of similar-length eBooks by unknown self-published authors."

In a word, have a look at what is out there already.

BookBaby has a column about it. As they say, lots of authors are enjoying good sales at the currently popular prices of $4.99 to $9.99.  Not only is this within the area where KDP pays a 70% royalty, but it reflects the quality of the book. 

On the other hand, many writers believe that it is worth pricing cheaply to build up a fan base.  Sadly, KDP pays only 35% for books priced under $2.99, which makes the income ridiculously small, but some authors, definitely, are doing well by going that way. 

There is also the option of writing a series and charging nothing at all for the first book.  Amazon doesn't like authors who do this, as it costs them money to keep a book listed, but there are outlets like Smashwords that do allow it.  And, for some writers, it works like a charm. 

So, in the end, no one can tell you how much to charge for your book (despite Amazon's heavy-handedness with Hachette).  It is entirely up to you, the publisher.  However, a young woman by the name of Nicci Leigh has a very interesting comment in response to the BookBaby blog, in which she lays out a choice of three strategies. 

  • Route 1: Price high and hold firm. If your book has high commercial appeal, believe it will eventually generate sales momentum. Price your book $4.99-$7.99 and hold firm. Offer promotions, such as free days, but do NOT drop the price due to lack of confidence. Readers will see this as a sign of failure. The higher price does imply value to many readers. They will pay for it, if you ask for it.

  • Route 2: Price low and work your way up. If you have a book that you are using for promotional means or to get comfortable as an Indie author. Start at $.99 and work your way up, slowly and casually as you grow sales. Creep your way up...

  • Route 3: Price low and stay low. Price your book at $.99 and KEEP it there. You will generate sales, and readers will repeatedly see your book listed all over Amazon, they will remember the low price point and eventually give yours a try. 

    Whatever you decide, good luck!

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

    The prize-winner that didn't win

    It's an irresistible headline.  Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is good enough to win the International Man Booker Prize (and sell heaps of copies -- 560,000 print and digital worldwide, at last count), but it is not the best book in New Zealand.

     Instead, it was trumped by the story of a Wellington art dealer. Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer by Wellington author Jill Trevelyan won the top prize at the ceremony last night.

    Published by the press of our national museum, Te Papa (which must be very chuffed at the success, having had a run of bad news lately, what with two loss-making major exhibits), the biography also won the Best General Non-Fiction category.

    The judges called it, "Not just a compelling read, it is a supreme achievement that delivers on every front."

    New Zealand's iconic poet, Vincent O'Sullivan, took the Best Poetry prize with Us, Then, which, like The Luminaries, was published by Fergus Barrowman at Victoria University Press.

    And the Best Illustrated Non-Fiction prize went to Coast: A New Zealand Journey, by Bruce Ansley, and one of my favorite photographers, Jane Ussher.  and it was published by one of my favorite publishers, Random House NZ.

    The Nielson Booksellers' Choice Award went to Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand's Highest High-country Station, by Harry Broad and Rob Suisted.  It was published by a house that often (like Random House and Victoria University Press) appears in this list, Craig Potton Publishing.

    And Eleanor Catton did not go away empty-handed, after all.  The Luminaries won both the Best Fiction and the People's Choice awards.

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014


    Margaret Muir has responded gallantly to my implied challenge, and has produced a drabble -- which, as you remember, is supposed to tell a story in exactly 100 words.  And here it is!

    TODAY by Margaret Muir

    Fronds of frost edged the capeweed like lace around a doily.
    Split jarrah crackled in the wood-stove.
    Fed the cat, milked Molly, collected the eggs. Anything else?
    She dried her cup and wiped the sink again.
    A pink envelope marked John leaned against a vase of fresh lavender.
    Sunlight streamed across the blue pattered lino.
    She checked her hair in the gilt-framed mirror.
    That’ll do.
    Taking the 1898 Winchester from the empty pantry and resting its well-worn
    wooden stock between her sheepskin slippers, she bowed her forehead to the
    barrel, touched her right thumb onto the cold metal and squeezed.

    Margaret tells me she included drabbles in her little book Words on a Crumpled Page.

    Any more entries????

    The gun at the top is an 1898 Winchester breech loading cannon.  Amazing what a google image search turns up ...

    How long is your book?

    Is 50,000 words long enough?

    Is 250,000 words too long?

    With traditional publishing, word length is a fraught issue, simply because of the economics.  All books cost a certain amount to bring out in print, and the cover price has to include this, plus author royalties, the bookseller's cut, and - of course - the publisher's profit.  If the book is only 40 pages, it has to have lots of lovely illustrations or something like that, because the price is going to seem an awful lot for such a little volume.  Generally, you can only get away with it if it is a children's book, or really gripping poetry.

    There are exceptions.  Think Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  Even then, though, the author had to wait a few years for the inspiration that made it long enough to tempt a publisher to take a punt.

    And if you are really famous, or the book looks like a sure seller, then the publisher will think seriously about your massive opus. Think Capital in the Twenty-first Century, 695 pages and still bestselling.

    Most traditional publishers like a book that is 80,000 words, give or take twenty thousand.  If the number of pages fits exactly into a press sheet (a big piece of paper that is cut up evenly into pages, after printing), then you have a very happy publisher.

    Indie publishers don't have that problem.  Writers who are going straight to KDP, CreateSpace or Lightning Source can make their stories as long or as short as they like.  But, as Rosen Trevithick points out in her funny but pertinent posts on how NOT to self-publish, it is not a good idea to publicize your 20,000-word effort as a novel.

    So, what do you call it?

    Here is her list, with a couple of additions (in italics) by me:

    1-10 words ..... graffiti
    1-99 words – micro fiction.
    100 words exactly – drabble.
    101-999 words – flash fiction. A "short short."
    1,000-7,499 – short story.
    7,500-17,499 – novelette.
    17,500-49,999 – novella.
    50,000-109,999 – novel.
    Over 110,000 – epic. A "doorstop."

    If you have never heard of drabbles before, go to Indie Book Bargains, a UK site that publishes a drabble every day.  You can submit a drabble if you like, as it is a good way of getting your name noticed, but be warned, writing a drabble is a lot harder than it looks.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    Superman SELLS

    The original Superman comic sells on eBay for THREE-POINT-TWO MILLION!

    From NPR

    A copy of 1938's Action Comics No. 1, which features the first appearance of Superman, sold for a record-breaking $3,207,852 to an unnamed buyer on Sunday. Darren Adams, the owner of Pristine Comics, posted it on eBay on Aug. 14. 

    The only other comic to sell for anything close to as much was a copy of Action Comics No. 1 that had been owned by Nicolas Cage, which sold for $2.16 million in 2011. 

    The Washington Post explains, "Adams's Superman book is graded at '9.0,' an almost unheard-of condition for this issue, which hit newsstands in the summer of 1938." Adams told the Post, "I actually held it for a few years — I was so excited about this book. And equally exciting to having a book of this condition is the fact that nobody knew it existed. Most books have a history ... but this book was totally off the grid, and nobody knew about it till I made it known."

    Adams had 48 bids before he sold it to an unnamed buyer.

    GalleyCat quotes a fragment from his listing:  "This is THE comic book that started it all. This comic features not only the first appearance of Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, but this comic began the entire superhero genre that has followed during the 76 years since. It is referred to as the Holy Grail of comics and this is the finest graded copy to exist with perfect white pages."

    Let's hope the buyer's kids don't get hold of it.

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    The Great Barrier Reef, a book

    Or, to be exact, the review.

    "Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stretches for around 1,430 miles along the continent’s northeast coast, encompassing an area roughly half the size of Texas. Those who have dived into its pristine reaches know firsthand that it is one of Earth’s natural wonders—a coral world of exceptional beauty and diversity. Yet as Iain McCalman’s “passionate history” of the reef makes clear, it is also a stage on which dreams, ambitions, and great human tragedies have been played out. He tells his story by chronicling lives that, either inadvertently or intentionally, have shaped our perception of the coralline labyrinth..."
    So begins Tim Flannery's review of McCalman's The Reef in The New York Review of Books.

    It's the kind of review that every writer dreads -- it goes on and on in the same vein, picking out all the sensational bits and relating all the best anecdotes.  Worse still, instead of giving compelling reasons to go out and buy the book, it summarizes the story so you don't have to read it.

    Pretty picture, though.