Friday, 28 January 2011

Friday fun - "A Simples Life" by Aleksandr Orlov


“No, is not spelling error…” as the author of this book would no doubt say in his delightful Russian accent. For Aleksandr Orlov is a meerkat with breeding, whose ancestors made it out of the Kalahari Desert to land in Russia after being sold a dodgy boat and a map that promised to take them to Bermuda.

Once landed, Aleksandr’s granddaddy set up a successful business called comparethemeerkat.com, today run by Aleksandr and his faithful sidekick Sergei from a 22-room Russian mansion compete with Grub Pantry, Panic Room, and a genuine Faberge omelette in the (real) vault. (Muse: There’s a fake vault too, with a fake Faberge omelette... didn’t fool a unicorn for a moment, of course.)

With its blend of humour and colour illustrations, this hardcover book should appeal to young and old alike with its cute photographs of meerkats posed in human clothes. It certainly made the Muse chuckle as he read about how Aleksandr’s ancestors battled the evil mongooses led by “Mongis” Khan, and built the family business up from a small shop in the Moscow slums, while muskrats overran the ancestral mansion after Aleksandr’s granddaddy lost it in a hand of cards.

Aleksandr Orlov has a blend of innocence and business-savvy that comes across through his endearing accent and many charming portraits. This is the first book I have ever read written by a meerkat, but don’t let that put you off! It’s well done, and has many nice extras such as maps and plans and mock-ups of movie posters starring Aleksandr’s family in epic productions directed – naturally – by Aleksandr himself. (Muse: Honestly, Greek horses with big heads writing books is bad enough… but Russian meerkats? Whatever next?)

I ordered the print edition of this book after reading an interview with Aleksandr on the Kindle Post, being charmed by his wit and downloading a free sample on my Kindle. Seeing it contained several pictures, I knew this book would not work in e-format and I’m glad I bought the hardcover. Being a reclusive sort of muse who disappears into the enchanted mists when the adverts come on TV, I read it without realizing that the characters are actually part of an advertising campaign for a real business that sounds similar to comparethemeerkat.com. But if you ignore the advertising angle, it’s certainly different and would make a good gift.

Muse: Taken part in the e-book survey yet? Register your vote on the right of this blog!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Kindle 4 – What do e-books mean for authors?

Since they are a new way of bringing your words out of your muse’s closet and into your reader’s hands, the answer should be quite a bit! Even if most of your current readers prefer paper format, e-books are likely to provide another income stream (or trickle) for authors as a new generation of readers discover the advantages of carrying an entire bookshelf around with them on one slim e-reader. Like it or not, ignoring e-books is no longer an option. As to how much attention you should pay them, much depends what stage you have reached in your career.

1. Highly promoted author under contract with a big publishing house.
You are one of the few people who don't need to read this series, because e-books will turn out to be just another nice income stream to join your paper royalties and audio book royalties and all the other kinds of royalties your publisher or agent handles for you. So you can happily trot off with your muse and dictate your next best-selling title from your champagne bath, or wherever else your muse feels happiest. (Muse: Champagne? I wish! I just have to make do with bubbles.)

2. Averagely-selling author with a small publishing house that may or may not have exploited your e-book rights.
You might be interested – if only so you understand what an e-book is and can use this understanding either to persuade your publisher to put your work in e-format, or give you back the rights so you can do this yourself.

3. An established author with a quirky, hard-to-sell manuscript that has not yet found a home.
You might be interested, especially if you’ve been thinking of self-publishing your manuscript but the upfront costs have held you back.

4. An author just starting out on their writing career with at least one manuscript in a fairly publishable state, who wants to get noticed by agents and publishers.
You’ll even more interested!

5. An author with a long career behind them and a stash of rights-reverted backlist titles gathering dust under their muse's bed.
You DEFINITELY need to read this series.

6. An author who has just signed a contract for their debut novel.
Congratulations. You’ll certainly have a lot of other things to think about right now, and won’t know yet which way your career will swing. But you might want to take notes and come back in a few years’ time...

Now for the good news! In case your muse has had her head buried in the sand for the past year, online bookseller amazon has now made it easy to self-publish your manuscript or rights-reverted backlist title through their Kindle Digital Platform (previously the digital text platform), after which they will make your e-book available for sale worldwide in their Kindle store alongside more traditionally published e-books. The publishing process costs nothing, except maybe the price of your book if you want to download a copy for yourself to check it out once it’s gone live. And you have the option of selecting a 70% royalty on all sales made in the US, UK and Canada, which is a lot better terms than you’ll get from any publishing contract.

If you don’t like being tied to amazon, there’s also the US-based Smashwords which will make your manuscript available in all the different e-book formats, including the format required for amazon’s Kindle. At first sight Smashwords seems the better option if you want a wide distribution, but as a UK-based muse with a mainly UK readership I have decided not to make my books available there for the time being because (a) the site is based in the US, which makes payment complicated for UK authors, (b) they do not support digital rights management so your book is wide open to piracy, and (c) the multitude of places they distribute your book makes it hard to control the price, which can affect your price on amazon – more details on the Kindle platform.

Starting next week I will concentrate on publishing a Kindle edition e-book with amazon the easiest way possible. I managed to make a basic e-book for my backlist title Spellfall without having to write any HTML code or use any kind of e-book building software, so in my next few posts I’ll take you through the steps required to do this. I created my e-book using Word 2000, but you should be able to do the same thing with most word processing programs. The only other things you’ll need are a broadband connection to access amazon’s Kindle Digital Text Platform, a bit of patience, and about a month to spare. You don’t even need a Kindle, because all the previewing software to test how your e-book looks is available for free download from amazon.

So, assuming you are not author type 1, are there any disadvantages before you take the plunge?

Promotion, obviously. As with any self-publishing venture, you have to do it all. But it could be worth your while, particularly if you already have an audience for your work and are e-publishing your backlist titles. And much promotion can be done online these days, which perfectly suits the e-book format because, unlike with paper copies, distribution is so quick and easy.

Even if you don’t have an audience yet, it could be a way of gaining one. There have been some spectacular success stories of debut novels published with amazon.com that have found their readership on Kindle and been picked off the best-seller list by mainstream publishers and agents. And if your book doesn’t sell, what have you lost by trying? At least you haven’t got several boxes of unsold copies piled high in your garage. Just quietly unpublish your e-book, and nobody will be the wiser. This also applies if you are worried the e-book might stop you from landing a mainstream contract - if you later decide to license your rights to someone else, you can unpublish your e-book within a few days.

Curious? Next time I’ll discuss formatting your Word manuscript for Kindle, so you’ve got a week to find your muse and knock your masterpiece into shape… good luck, and I hope your muse is as excited as mine!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Anne McCaffrey reading challenge – The Crystal Singer

I grew up reading Anne McCaffrey’s stories and often dig out my favourite battered copies of her books whenever I need a bit of comfort reading, so I was delighted to discover this 2011 reading challenge set by Caroline at Portrait of a Woman .

In case you’ve not come across her work yet (Muse: She’s a big hit over in the enchanted mists!), Anne McCaffrey mixes fantasy and science fiction in a warm and personal way that makes you really care for her characters. Although her books often include spaceships and alien planets, you won’t find any geeky stories with gadgets and zappers here – her characters are real people with real emotions, who just happen to live on alien planets and use spaceships the way we might drive cars. The good news is she’s been writing for a long time, which means she has a huge backlist for you to discover.

When I was a teenager, I almost sent her a fan latter but chickened out of posting it at the last minute because I couldn’t work out what kind of stamp would reach her in Ireland (Muse: this was before the days of email, obviously). Her books range from the popular Dragonriders of Pern series, to thoughtful science fiction such as “The Ship Who Sang”. Music plays a strong part in many of her books, and I suspect my first novel “Song Quest” owes quite a bit to Anne McCaffrey’s influence from those early days. (Muse: Any author who says they are not influenced by what they read is lying!)

In fact, Anne McCaffrey has written so many books – the later ones in collaboration with other writers – that even a dedicated fan like me has not read them all. I’m looking forward to some new discoveries myself this year, but for my first review of this challenge I’m going to tell you about my all-time favourite Anne McCaffrey book.

THE CRYSTAL SINGER

Welcome to the beautiful world of Ballybran, where members of the elite Heptite Guild mine precious crystal by literally singing it out of the rocks. Since Ballybran crystals are in demand for both communications and space travel, these “crystal singers” have high status throughout the universe. Their special talent, coupled with the small number of people who make it as a singer, makes them rich beyond their wildest dreams. But the planet of Ballybran hides a deadly secret that ties the singers to their place of work… an alien crystal spore which invades any carbon-based life form landing on the planet, either forming a symbiotic relationship that enhances human senses, or killing it in the process. Too long away from its home planet, and the spore dies, killing its host. Not everyone makes the successful adaptation required to sing crystal, and those who fail must remain on Ballybran as technicians and support staff for the rest of their lives. The secrecy surrounding Ballybran, along with its fearsome mach storms capable of stripping skin from bones, mean that applying to the Heptite Guild is discouraged by many planet authorities.

Enter beautiful and ambitious Killashandra Ree, who has grown up on the backwater world of Fuerte, where she attends music college hoping to make it as a solo singer. When her tutor tells her – right at the start of the book – that her voice contains a flaw which will prevent her from being the big star she dreams of, she puts her past behind her, and leaves the planet of her birth to apply for membership of the Heptite Guild, little knowing what dangers lie ahead. Killashandra is lucky enough to have a Milekey transition, perfectly adapting her to life on Ballybran, and when she finds a rare and valuable black crystal seam the enigmatic Guildmaster himself takes a personal interest in her that is not solely professional.

From the first few lines of this book, Killashandra’s thwarted ambition and her determination to be the best makes you want her to succeed. The way the spore invades people’s bodies is both frightening and believable, and the beautiful planet of Ballybran is so well described that I could almost hear the crystal ranges singing back to me. For me this book has it all: memorable characters, a strong heroine, believable scientific background, a great “what if” (what happens when a silicon-based life form meets a carbon-based life form?), and that elusive sense of wonder that makes science fiction and fantasy so enjoyable. With the scientific detail and space politics, it’s probably not aimed at younger readers, but I enjoyed it as a teenager and I love it equally now. If you want proof of how well this book lingers in the mind after reading, I wrote this review from memory without referring to the text. (Muse: so if you spot any mistakes, that’s why!)

Thank you to Caroline for suggesting this reading challenge. And if you haven’t read any Anne McCaffrey books yet, they are out there waiting for you… go find the author who was responsible for making me want to write!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Kindle 3 – e-books vs. paper books.

After taking a look at the Kindle e-reader last week, I’m now going to take a look at e-books themselves.

Most people are familiar with a paper version of a book. It has a cover – maybe hard, maybe soft - with some cover art. Inside it has paper pages bound together (hopefully) strongly enough so you can open the book and read them and close the book again, and keep doing this as many times as you like. Books do not go off like milk. They might go yellow and smell a bit, but they can still be read many years after they have been published. You can fold down the corners of the pages (Muse: barbarians!) to keep your place, and even scribble in the margins if you haven’t borrowed it from the library. Or even if you have borrowed it, if you're a barbarian. Oh yes, and you can lend it, or pass it on to a friend after you’ve read it, or give it to a charity shop. The only thing you really need to read a paper book is eyes capable of seeing the print and hands to turn the pages. There are even special books for the blind, with the words in Braille for reading by touch.

To read an e-book, however, you first need something like a Kindle. There are other e-readers around (which the Muse has not seen), or you can download free apps to read e-books on your iphone, ipad, Blackberry, etc, or even on your computer. An e-book does not have a cover as such – your electronic device acts as the cover – though it will probably contain an image of the front cover at the start. It does not have pages, only screenfuls of words and maybe pictures, and most of them have hyperlinks you can click on, as explained in my previous Kindle post. You design your own “e-pages” by adjusting the text size and number of words on a line. You can bookmark these e-pages electronically (in the Kindle they look as if you’ve folded down the corner), and you can “scribble” on the e-pages too – your notes go into a clippings file, linked back to the place in the e-book you were reading. You can borrow e-books from your local library, and you can lend a Kindle book purchased from amazon to a friend for seven days. You can’t give it away for good after you’ve finished with it, unless you also give away your e-reader... so you can’t give it to a charity shop unless you’re giving an e-reader with its complete collection. And there are obviously no Braille e-books, though for those who have trouble seeing the words on the screen the Kindle can read the book to you.

So why, I hear you ask, would anyone want to read an e-book rather than a paper book? Not only do you need an expensive device to read it on, but you can’t give it away afterwards (Muses do not support piracy.). Charities will suffer! The second-hand book market will collapse! Your friends will hate you!

Second-hand book trade aside, creatively e-books are very exciting to an author, and I think certain types of e-books have the potential to be much more than their paper cousins.

To begin with, background material is easy to add. For example, an e-book with a historical setting could have hyperlinks in the text so the reader can click on an unfamiliar word or historical character and “flip” to a short piece about that character or period of history, which would be included helpfully with the book. The same thing would work for books set in fantasy worlds, or in space, or any novel where the background might be of interest to readers as they are reading. JRR Tolkien wrote an entire book containing background to his epic “Lord of the Rings”, which was later published as “The Silmarillion". If he were writing today, he could have put all this background material into the Lord of the Rings, hyperlinked from the original text where appropriate. You might not want to read all this extra material the first time you read the story, of course, but it would be there if you did.

Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books? (Muse: Katherine's showing her age here!), where you could read a few pages of a story and then, when you reached the place where the hero met the dragon, you could choose between “hero slays dragon” and “dragon eats hero”, flipping to a different page according to your choice to continue reading? With a printed book, this was always a bit clumsy. You had to flip through the pages manually, and on the way you might accidentally see another part of the story. If nothing else, by the time you’d finished flipping back and forth, the book looked grubby and choose-your-own-adventure books had a limited lifespan. With an e-book, however, you could have hyperlinks in the text to do the “flipping” for you, and navigate your way around the story a bit like the hero in a game.

Taking this even further, a story can have pictures and music too, becoming an “app” rather than an e-book. Eventually, taken far enough down this route, it will become a game and no longer be a book.

There are physical advantages, too. If you’re moving house, e-books are a LOT lighter to carry. And you don’t have to chop down any trees to make an e-book, so if it’s a million-copy seller then reading it in e-format might do the planet a favour… though the Muse can’t decide if using an electronic device to read it cancels this out.

Paper books, on the other hand, will always look and feel more beautiful than e-books, and in the Muse’s humble opinion highly-illustrated books do not translate well into e-format. Also, there’s something very satisfying about stroking your hoof over a nice looking cover when you close your book and put it away for the night. Old paper has a smell which makes unicorns go weak at the knees, and you can use your collection of paper books to decorate a room or to insulate your walls. You can’t do that with e-books.

So what do YOU think? Are you part of the e-book revolution? Or are you more of a “love-the-smell-of-old-books” sort of muse? Vote on the sidebar!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Friday Favourite - THE HORSE DANCER by Jojo Moyes

The Horse Danceris an adult novel that should appeal to all ages with its interwoven adult and teenage viewpoints. It’s part romance, part horse story, and part adventure, taking its characters on a journey of both heart and hoof, from the back streets of London to a chateau deep in the French countryside.

The story revolves around a beautiful horse called “Boo”, one of the Selle Francais breed used in an exclusive French riding school called the Cadre Noir (rather like the Spanish riding school of Vienna, only the horses are not all white). The horse belongs to Sarah, granddaughter of dedicated horseman Henri Lachapelle, who used to ride for the Cadre Noir but left the horses behind to marry an English girl and move to London. There, his life collapsed. His beloved wife died, and their daughter vanished from their lives shortly after giving birth, leaving Henri in charge of the baby girl.

Sarah lives with her grandfather in a tiny flat in the east end and keeps Boo under a railway arch in a seedy yard run by good-hearted maverick Cowboy John. She plays truant from school, but is happy training her horse to perform the strict disciplines of the Cadre Noir… the “airs above the ground” and riding him around the parks and back streets of London. Then disaster strikes. Her grandfather Henri has a stroke and is taken into hospital, leaving Sarah to fend for herself. Soon the flat is burgled, and a shady character called Maltese Sal takes over the yard, which he uses as a base for his trotters - running illegal races on the dual carriageway and gambling on the results. Maltese Sal has had his eye on Sarah for some time, and when she is unable to pay for her horse’s keep he attempts to take payment from her in other ways. Sarah tells him to get lost, but she will beg, borrow and steal to keep her beloved horse Boo until her grandfather is well enough to come home.

Enter Natasha MacAuley, a lawyer who specializes in helping vulnerable youngsters, who catches Sarah shoplifting for food. Seeing that the girl needs help, she takes Sarah into her own house. This is complicated by the fact Natasha is in the middle of divorcing her husband Mac - a charismatic photographer with a chain of admiring girlfriends - in favour of a partner at her law firm who dangles promotion before her like a carrot on a stick. But for Sarah’s sake, Natasha and Mac get back together, little knowing the girl and the horse are about to change their lives forever.

At first Sarah keeps Boo a secret from her foster family. But when Maltese Sal illegally sells the horse to pay off her debts and runs him in a trotting race on the flyover, she rescues Boo and sets off on a daring ride from London to the Cadre Noir in France with only Natasha’s stolen credit card and the clothes on her back. Natasha and Mac have no choice but to follow her across the Channel, and so begins a wild chase which forces all the characters to re-evaluate their lives and decide what really matters to them.

The book’s strapline “You have to be lost before you can be found.” spoke powerfully to me, and several times I found myself in tears before the end. Jojo Moyes’ writing is both beautiful and emotional so you really feel for the characters when they go through bad times, but the ending is hopeful and uplifting for all. The good news is that Jojo Moyes, who keeps horses herself, has written several other novels as well, so if you enjoy this one then you have much more to enjoy.

(Muse: And to prove what a small world you humans live in, Jojo Moyes is the stepdaughter of Brian Sanders, who illustrated the map at the front of “I am the Great Horse” and was responsible for sending Katherine to seek out this wonderful novel. Much unicorn glitter to both of them!)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Writing Wednesday – The 2011 Book Drum Tournament

In my early writing days, I enjoyed entering competitions. There are a lot of them around if you look, many with free entry (Muse: young writers check out the list on the right of this blog!) Some competitions are obviously for stories or poetry, but others use your writing in a creative way, so don’t ignore them. Even if you don’t win, entering can be fun and might encourage you to have a go at something that’s not your usual sort of thing, which helps keeps your writing fresh. Also, a deadline gets you into the habit of actually finishing something and sending it off to be judged, which is all good practice for finishing your novel and sending it off to an editor.

The prizes can be interesting. For example, my first “win” was a large box of Mars Bars in return for creating a fantasy creature and writing a short piece about it. (Muse: If you’re curious, Katherine’s creature was a “cock-a-hissle-doo”, a cross between a snake and a cockerel, and she had a lot of fun drawing the noisy, slithery creature... she was 8 at the time!) Others might offer a creative writing course, or a pitch with an agent, or lunch with an author you've never heard of. But you're not entering for the money, are you?

Needless to say, the Muse loves this sort of thing! So for my first Writing Wednesday post he’d like to point his horn towards an exciting online tournament, which has just opened for entries over at The Book Drum:

First Prize: £1,000
Second Prize: £500
Third Prize: £250
5 Runner-Up Prizes: £100

Deadline for Entries: 30 April 2011

The idea is to add background material to a published book. This might include historical articles, interviews with the author, pictures, videos, anything that you think goes well with the book… the sort of thing I attempted for “I am the Great Horse” last year on this blog. The website is set up to help you add all these things to your chosen book, and you can search online for suitable material or add your own. Have a look at some of the profiles already on the Book Drum site, and you’ll see what I mean.

For the tournament, you can either profile one of their Recommended Books, which includes a mix of both young and adult titles, or you can choose another title, so long as it is widely available and published by a mainstream publisher. (Anyone who wants to tackle “I am the Great Horse” is welcome to use material from this blog – see the Great Horse series of posts between August and December 2010, and I will also give an email interview to the brave person who attempts this.)

Only one person can profile any particular book, so enter as soon as possible to ensure you get the title you want…
Enter Tournament

Muse note: You’ll notice the rules say you have to be over 18, but I have prodded the editors with my glittery horn, and they say if you are under 18 then you’ll need to get a parent or guardian to register for you for legal reasons, but you can then build the profile and enter the tournament yourself. And if you win, you’ll be able to buy a lot of Mars Bars…

Good luck!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Kindle 2 – So what exactly IS a Kindle?

It’s like a book you read on a screen, right? Well, yes and no…

First of all, the Kindle is not a book in itself. It’s an electronic reading device that can store thousands of books you download onto it from amazon’s website over its wi-fi connection or the worldwide 3G whispernet. These can be e-books or audio books, since it also has neat little speakers on the back and a headphone socket.

Second, it doesn’t contain books like the ones on your shelf, with the pages all neatly laid out for you. Instead it displays the content you might otherwise find in a book (i.e. the author’s words and illustrator’s pictures), which have been converted into digital format so that you can read them displayed in special “e-ink” on its screen. Pictures show up as greyscale (like a black and white TV, if you’re old enough to remember such things!), though if you download a Kindle app for your ipad or computer etc. any coloured pictures will of course show up in colour. This is because the Kindle e-ink is a different technology from your computer screen, being easy to read in bright sunlight… and no doubt colour e-ink is just around the corner!

The Kindle is about the same size as your average paperback book, but some of this is taken up by the frame and control buttons, so the screen area for displaying text is a bit smaller than a normal page. However, it is much thinner than a book, so easier and lighter to hold. It does not open up like a printed book, so you see just one “e-page” at a time, which I've found actually helps the eye focus on reading what is there, rather than dancing about a large page getting distracted by other things... though you shouldn’t think of them as pages, more as a screenful of words and/or pictures. You turn these “e-pages” by pressing controls on the edge of your Kindle – forward or back, just as if you were reading a book.

So far, so like a printed book.

Now for the exciting bit… YOU ARE IN CONTROL.

Not of the actual words and illustrations, but of the way you want to read them. Print too small? No problem. You have eight choices of print size, the largest rather like the big letter at the top of your optician’s chart that you can read from across the room – though of course the bigger the print you select, the fewer words you’ll get on your “e-page”, and the more times you have to “turn” it. I usually go for a medium-sized print and increase this by one step for reading in poor light or if my eyes are feeling tired after a long day staring at my computer screen.

Don’t like the font style? You can change that, too. You have three choices – regular(serif), condensed, and sans serif. Want wider line spacing? Again, three choices. Want fewer words on a line? Three more choices. It’s like being able to design your very own book so you can read the authors’ words the way YOU want to, not the way the publisher decides you ought to read them.

If you don’t like reading your Kindle upright with the controls at the bottom (Muse: they are quite small, so it can be fiddly if you have big hooves like me), that’s no problem either – simply turn the Kindle and its text sideways, or turn it upside-down if you are that kind of person. I find it easier to read mine turned sideways with the buttons on the left, since I'm left handed.

And if you are feeling really lazy and want your book read to you, you can turn on the text-to-speech feature, which I think is fantastic. You have a choice of two voices – male and female – who will then read the words on the screen and turn your “e-pages” automatically for you when they reach the bottom. Admittedly, the male voice sounds a bit like Stephen Hawking, and the female voice sounds like an American robot, so this is not quite the same as downloading an audiobook read by an actor or the author themselves, but it’s not bad, and should improve as electronic voice technology improves. For a book with lots of headings and small sections, the voices do not pause as they should do, but they’re much better reading a novel, and I actually think the Kindle reads my book “Spellfall” quite well! There’s a volume control at the bottom. And if you want to listen privately or in a noisy space, you can plug in some earphones (not included with the Kindle package, so you need to buy these separately).

Need to look up a word? Easy. There’s a built in dictionary. Just hover the cursor (which you move around the screen using a five-way controller) over any word, and up comes a definition. Pressing enter will take you to that word in the dictionary for a fuller explanation. You can choose between English and American dictionaries (Muse warning: the Kindle defaults to American, so if you are in the UK you’ll probably want to change this in the settings menu first.)

You can also search for a word or phrase in any book you are reading by choosing the “search” option on the Kindle menu and typing your phrase at the bottom. This gives you a list of locations in the book where your search text occurs, together with the appropriate paragraph from the book –just as if you had looked something up in an index of a print book to get a page number, only better because you don't have to flip through all the pages to find the right one. Simply click on a location to go straight to that part of the book and read more. This is very useful for non-fiction books and research… oh, how I wish I’d had a Kindle while I was researching my Seven Fabulous Wonders series!

Flicking through the pages of your e-book is quite easy, too. Select the Kindle “go to” feature from the menu, and you have the option of going to the cover, or the start (for example chapter one), or a chosen location (enter a number between 1 and the maximum for that book), or the table of contents.

I find a book's table of contents the most useful, especially for a short story collection or non-fiction. It looks just like the contents page in a print book, but is hyperlinked to the chapters so you can click on one and jump straight there. (Muse warning: some of the free and very cheap books available for download do not have this feature linked up, so you need to page through manually or guess by entering a location number – like printed reference books without an index, you tend to get what you pay for!) Some e-books also allow you to use the five-way cursor for moving quickly between different sections of the book. These show up on the location bar at the bottom of the page as tiny black marks, so you’ll know if you have one of those.

When using any of these features, the BACK button returns you to where you started so you don't have to worry about losing your place. And there is no need to bookmark your page when you “close” the book or put your Kindle to sleep, either – it remembers where you were, so next time you open that book it takes you straight to the “e-page” you just left.

Also, if you do manage to fill up your Kindle with e-books (Muse: I don't know anyone who has done this yet!), you can archive the ones you've read with amazon and get them back again whenever you want.

Things NOT to do with your new Kindle:
* Drop it in the bath.
* Spill your coffee over it.
* Throw it at your cat/husband/boyfriend.
* Leave it on the train.

Things to do with your new Kindle:
* Download all the free books you can find – lots of great classics out of copyright are either free or available for less than £1 on amazon’s site.
* Carry it with you when you have to wait at the dentist, or for a friend.
* Take it to bed with you…?

The Muse would love to hear what other new Kindle owners think of theirs!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Backlist Books

For my first Thursday Truth post, I’m going to talk about backlist titles, by which I mean books that came out more than a year ago. Since I had no new book out last year all of my titles now count as backlist, which means I’m in the unusual position of being able to focus my full attention on them.

Such books fall into three categories:
Those that remain on the original publisher’s list and are still selling (good).
Those that remain with the publisher but are out of print, or selling one or two copies a year (bad).
Those for which the publisher has reverted rights back to the author (also quite good – see below).

Muse note: The question of when, how, and under what circumstances, rights revert is a complex one that depends on the contract you signed with your publisher so I won’t go into that here, except to say that giving you your rights back does not seem to be high on many publishers’ priorities. So if you are an author under contract and do not feel confident that your publisher will exploit these rights within your lifetime, it is up you to ask for them to revert.

The only time I think it's advantageous to leave an out-of-print title with your publisher is when they are planning a reissue, maybe to accompany publicity surrounding your next book. Chicken House did this for my second novel “Spellfall”, which has now gone through the whole process of being initially contracted, published, reissued, reverted, and – just this week – republished in exciting new e-format (Muse: more about how to do this on Kindle Tuesdays.)

So here is the true story of Spellfall’s journey into the hands of its readers:
First edition published in 2000 in hardback by Chicken House. Sold out Dec 2000.

Paperback edition published June 2001, went out of print in Dec 2003.
American edition published in 2001 by Scholastic US. Launched at the American Libraries Association conference in San Francisco and flagged in the American independent booksellers’ Children’s 76 for that year as the “book most likely to fill the Harry Potter void this fall”.
 
UK edition reissued by Chicken House in 2007, rights reverted back to me 2010.

E-edition re-published with Amazon for Kindle in January 2011 by Reclusive Muse... moonlighting again, the little unicorn-devil! Well, he does have a horn I suppose. (Muse note: and for all those lovely librarians out there who spotted a bad word in the print edition, I made Katherine remove it!)

I feel quite excited by this journey, because it proves backlist books do not have to die a slow death and stay buried forever. And one of the lovely things about children’s books is that, as one generation of young readers grows up, a new generation of readers is just being born… so if the book does not date too much, then there’s no reason why it should not keep being reborn also, rather like Dr Who, taking different forms for different times.

Muse note: If you have a Kindle and would like to read a free sample of "Spellfall", you can get it from amazon.co.uk. If you haven’t got a Kindle yet, you can download a free app from amazon for your ipad, iphone, blackberry, etc. or your computer and read it on that. Let the Muse know what you think!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Kindle 1 - A Gift from Santa

I have finally tracked down my unicorn (he was over at amazon buying an e-book, of all things) and spoken to him about the way this blog is going to develop in 2011. Naturally, the Muse favours a misty spiral path filled with magic whereas I, being merely human, am more inclined to structure like the Bookette. So we’ve compromised and come up with a basic outline to follow for the days we have something to post about. It’ll work like this:

Muse Mondays – Guest posts where other authors introduce their muses. (If you would like to volunteer your muse for one of these please get in touch!)

Kindle Tuesdays – e-books and my first ever Kindle publishing project.

Writing Wednesdays – ideas and fun challenges from the Muse to get the creative juices flowing.

Thursday Truths – I will post an honest truth about books and publishing and life as an author, along the lines of my earnings post. (Probably a lot of these will have something to do with money, because that’s what authors have the most nightmares about!)

Friday Favourites – reviews of books, films, blogs, etc. I’ve particularly enjoyed. These will be a mixture of old and new.

Story Weekends – stories and poems by young writers who would like to share their creativity on this blog, perhaps in response to the Writing Wednesday challenges. Sometimes I might post a poem or short story here, if I'm feeling inspired.

Obviously, there will not be a post every day of every week, or no new books will get written! But if you see one on Monday it’ll be a guest post, if you see one on Tuesday it’ll be about e-books and Kindle publishing, Wednesday will be a creative post, etc. I’m aiming to post 2-3 times per week, depending on other commitments. If I begin a series, I'll obviously post every week on that day.

And since it is Tuesday, to kick things off I can tell you I am now the proud owner of a brand new Kindle e-reader! Santa brought it me for Christmas, which was very nice of him. And what on earth, I hear you say, is a Muse doing with a Kindle? Well, if you're interested in e-books (either as a reader or an author) then you won't want to miss my first blog series of 2011 - return here next Tuesday and I shall tell you more…

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Unicorn’s First Birthday!

Like all thoroughbred horses, the Muse has his birthday on January 1st. So now that this blog has been going for a year, it’s time to take a look at where we are, where we have been, and where the muse might be found in 2011.

One of the interesting things about writing a blog is its organic nature. A blog is not a carefully crafted book written maybe more than a year ago, redrafted several times, and edited by professionals before publication. Katherine does her best to edit each post, of course, to make sure they are not – hopefully not! – littered with typos and bad grammar, but this is only the most basic level of editing done on a real book before publication.

The bigger questions:
Should all the posts be there?
Should they be in a different order?
Should they be longer, or shorter?
Should they be written in a different way entirely?
do not become obvious until it’s too late to answer them.

For an author, used to having a whole army of gatekeepers and editors working on their prose before publication, it can be a risky thing to publish your work just a day or so after writing it. But it’s exciting, too, especially if - like Katherine - your books spill over into other forms of creativity, such as the horse pictures she painted in pastels during the writing of "I am the Great Horse" (see December posts).

One of the highlights of last year was the Great Horse blog series, which drew together the many different threads of writing and publishing Katherine’s latest novel, and included interviews with the book’s editor, illustrator, and translator, ending with a fabulous book trailer created by a fan.
Muse tip: If you want to explore some of the older posts on this blog, you’ll find them listed in the archives on the right. Also, each new post generates at the bottom three related older posts... just click on the link to read them in full.

We hope you have enjoyed the journey so far and feel inspired to continue following (or join!) the Muse in 2011, where the emphasis will be on keeping the creative flame alive in our new digital world, starting with Katherine's very first e-book publishing project... more soon!

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