How to Attend A Book Launch

Yesterday I attended my first ever book launch.

The book in question — not my own, sadly! — was the dark political thriller The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor. (You may recall he ran the writing course I attended).

Having never been to a book launch before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What is the correct etiquette? Must you buy the book, or not? What do you wear? Will there be alcohol?

How to Attend A Book Launch

  • To buy, or not to buy?
    While authors would certainly like everyone attending to buy the book, I doubt they expect everyone to — particularly if you’re hard up on cash and/or not interested in the genre. Don’t feel pressured into buying: the important thing is to show your support in whatever way you can.

  • Bring friends!
    The venue will look at turnout for the event, and will be more likely to invite the author back if he/she can draw a crowd. Round up your friends and/or partner and/or dog and bring them along!
    (Yes, there was a dog at the event!)

  • Promote the author online
    Another way to show your support is to promote the event online. You can tweet or blog about it, and even set up a Goodreads event for the launch. Anything that will spread the word!

  • Don’t harass the author
    Book launches are like weddings: everyone wants a piece of the action. The author will want to circulate to greet attendees, so be respectful and don’t hog his/her time.

  • Enjoy yourself!
    What you wear doesn’t matter. Take the time to meet new people, listen to the author’s reading and get your book signed. It’s not every day that you can browse a bookshop with a glass of wine in your hand…

Do you have any other tips to add to the list?

* * *

The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor

Washington_Lebor Yael Azoulay, the U.N. covert negotiator, had to kill or be killed when she went rogue in Geneva. Now back in New York, she is tasked with meeting the man at the dark heart of the American military industrial complex. Yael soon discovers a chilling conspiracy that reaches to Iran…and a dark secret from her past. The endgame is a devastating new war in the Middle East. But the closer she comes to the truth, the more she exposes herself to powerful enemies who neither forgive, nor forget.

How To Handle Criticism

He glared at me and said, “Look how you’re dressed.”

I looked down and could see only what I had seen in the mirror that morning, the suit and shirt and tie that was customary for students at the time.

“Your suit is blue,” he said. “Your shirt is blue, your tie is blue. That’s what’s wrong with your writing.”

When my ordeal was over I slunk away from Goodman’s cubicle to rethink the sameness of my writing and to learn the value of variety. It took some time for me to learn the other lesson, that a writer, shy or not, needs a tough skin, for no matter how advanced one’s experience and career, expert criticism cuts to the quick, and one learns to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.

On Writing by Sol Stein

Effective criticism, however hard it is to take, will make you a better writer.

But how do you handle criticism — and how can you tell good feedback from bad?

  1. Detach
    Effective criticism is aimed at your story, not you. Don’t get defensive; stand back and evaluate the feedback logically.

  2. Experiment
    Criticism isn’t necessarily right or wrong, so it’s important to experiment with reader suggestions. It costs you nothing to make a copy of your story and tweak it as suggested. At worst, you’ll go back to the original version, but you may find you love the new version even more.

  3. Compare
    Criticism reveals a reader’s experience of your story. The more feedback you get, the better you’ll be able to sift through the comments and identify what is and isn’t working.

Dealing with criticism the right way will help your writing progress — so take a deep breath and learn to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.

How To Keep A Writer’s Notebook

I’ve previously written about the 7 benefits of keeping a writer’s notebook.

But how do you keep one? Should it be organised or a collection of scribbles? Should you separate prose from outlines, free writes from drafts?

The easiest answer is: do whatever feels right.

But I would argue that you should do whatever will best serve you later on — and that means pinpointing your needs to decide what kind of notebook you need.

A writer’s notebook is a tool; its aim is to help you with your writing. What kind of help do you need?

THE IDEAS NET
Perhaps you simply need a place to collect ideas. A place for quick lines of observation, description, snippets of scenes, character names and inspirational quotes.

There’s no structure to this kind of notebook–and no restrictions. You’ll browse through its contents at a later stage when you’re hungry for inspiration.

THE BRAIN DUMP
Julia Cameron promotes keeping morning pages — writing three stream of consciousness pages every morning to get the juices flowing. You may never use this content anywhere else; the aim is to get into the habit of writing and unblock your creativity.

If you want to increase productivity, this is the kind of notebook for you.

THE ONE-TRACK-MINDED
For Darksight, I’m keeping a project-specific notebook.

The beauty of a project-specific notebook is that is that it keeps me focused. I flip open to a page, and know that I can only write about ONE story. No procrastination allowed.

To keep myself organised, I’ve split the notebook into two halves.

The front half of the notebook contains outlines, character bios and family trees. (I’ve also seen other authors number the pages and leave space for an index, in order to easily find content as it builds up.)

The back half of my notebook is for snippets and scenes: pieces of prose as and when inspiration strikes.

Eventually the two halves will meet, but I love having all of my notes and reference points in the same notebook as my ideas, yet in some way organised too.

NONE OF THE ABOVE?
There are many more types of notebooks, from dream journals to diaries.

What kind of notebook do you keep? There is no right or wrong way – only what works for you and helps your writing.

The Importance of Proofreading

Everyone bangs on about the importance of proofreading. But why does it matter?

The most important part of an author’s job is to tell a brilliant, gripping, powerful story. No one cares about a few misplaced commas and typos! True readers can see past those minor niggles and appreciate the author’s storytelling genius… right?

Wrong.

The last couple of Kindle titles I’ve bought have contained mistakes – minor annoyances such as missing punctuation and the odd misspelled word. But every error is a distraction from the story.

An author’s job is not simply to tell a story, but to do that story justice.

How can you claim to have given your story every chance in life if you haven’t bothered to proofread it?

Everyone makes mistakes – even the big publishing houses. But indie authors have more at stake. The naysayers who think indie means unprofessional are still out there; don’t fan their flames.

So: Proofread your work. Read the story backwards paragraph by paragrah to sense check every line. (That’s my technique.)

Then get your friends/beta readers to read your work. If you can afford it, get a professional editor involved.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on MS Word’s farcical grammar/spell checker.

Once you accept that Microsoft did not invent grammar, it’s amazing how many mistakes you can find.

7 Benefits Of Keeping A Writer’s Notebook

“But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

If I have been a quiet on the blog lately, it is because I’m focusing heart and soul on my next novel, Darksight.

The writing process for this project has been very different from my first novel, Above Ground, which ran as an online serial. I don’t have a weekly posting schedule to stick to. I don’t have readers debating the story’s progression.

It’s just me… and my new-found best friend: my notebook.

This is the first time I’ve kept a project-specific notebook, and I’ve come to realise that the physical process of writing is crucial to the development of a story.

I used to think that those who carried around fancy *coughmoleskincough* notebooks were pretentious. A part of me still does: I’m using a bog standard spiral-bound affair.

But my new companion has taught me that what exists in our minds is formless, mutable. Only when it has a physical permanence can we build upon it to take the story further.

Not convinced?

Seven Benefits to Keeping a Notebook

  1. Memory aid: Have you ever thought of something great, told yourself you’d write it later, only to find it has slipped away like a dream? Keep your notebook close and it’ll never happen again.

  2. Stimulate thought: Do policemen walk around without their uniforms? No! Well, you’re an author. Carrying a notebook means that a part of your mind is always subconsciously in writing mode, seeking new ideas.

  3. Evaluate progress: You can track your ideas as they develop over time, and remember how you ended up where you are now. Particularly useful for character development and back stories.

  4. Ask questions: Why does your protagonist hate chocolate? How did the submarine end up in the zoo? A notebook allows you to jot down questions – even if you don’t have the answer.

  5. Focus: Your mind can only handle so much at any one time. Dump all of your thoughts into your notebook, so you can pick and choose what to work on.

  6. Gain perspective: Having a notebook puts your ideas outside of your head. The separation will allow you to look at your thoughts from a different perspective, helping you spot flaws or plot holes.

  7. Solve problems: Sometimes your story isn’t quite working, and you can’t figure out why. Instead of moaning about it in your head, moan about it on PAPER! It’s therapeutic, and you may find the answer somewhere amidst the scribbles.

Do you keep a writing notebook? Why or why not?

The Day Is Here

SOLID MOMENTS is out now!

Woop woop woop!

Solid MomentsThe collection has also had its first ever (5 star!) review – check it out:

A collection of short stories that define fragments of life. A blind girl, a brother meeting a sister he never knew, a boy hooked on video games, a women in a loveless marriage, a soldier’s story, just to name a few. Each story was unique and touching in its own special way. I liked every story.

What I also like (and found unique and a very great concept) was at the end of the book, the author tells us what inspired her to write each story. I found that to be interesting. I often wonder how an author comes up with the ideas behind each book. Those who love short stories should read Solid Moments.
Goodreads reviewer

Order the ebook now!
Smashwords $2.80
Kindle US $3
Kindle UK £1.99
Kindle IT €2.68
Kindle DE €2.68

…did someone mention PRINT?
Amazon US $6.30
Amazon UK £4.50

Need some convincing?
Read an excerpt now or add on Goodreads for later.

Cover Reveal: Solid Moments

Solid MomentsIntroducing SOLID MOMENTS, a short story collection which will be released on January 9 2015.

I am thrilled to be revealing the cover to you today – once again designed by the inimitable MCM – and very much hope you’ll enjoy these stories.

What’s this all about?

As you may recall, in October I set myself a two months, one book challenge. While I’m running a little behind schedule, Solid Moments is the result of those two months’ work.

Collating 23 short stories of varying lengths, Solid Moments captures the precious minutes when we are most ourselves.

Add it on Goodreads – and stay tuned for updates!

To Read: In The Spirit by JC Hart

To distract from my lack of posts (I’ve been working, shhh!) I’d like to give a quick shout out to fellow author JC (Cassie) Hart.

Cassie is one of those people who — even if you don’t speak to them very often — you just know is a great person. She helped me out with my Above Ground blog tour, was one of the editors of charity anthology Tales for Canterbury, and has done innumerable other things I cannot recall but know are Cool Things.

Which is why the latest addition to my to-read shelf is her new release In The Spirit, which I’ve nabbed from Amazon UK for only £0.77!

Check it out:

In The Spirit by JC Hart In The Spirit by JC Hart

When Alyssa returns to Kotahi Bay for her Gran’s funeral, she finds herself in possession of the house of her dreams and apparently, a centuries old ghost itching to escape its bonds.

Still, the house has given her an escape route from a dead end job and a nasty break-up, so perhaps dealing with a ghost might be worth it.

But between the residents who think she should step into her Gran’s role as the town witch, a suspiciously nosy neighbour, and increasingly threatening occurrences around the house, Alyssa must decide whether this new home is worth it, or whether it’s safer to leave the Bay for good.

Available from Amazon US | iTunes | Amazon UK | Kobo

The Power of Storytelling Part Three: The 7 Steps of Character Development

“If conflict drives drama, then what drives the character is inner conflict.” – Adam Lebor

In the first session of Adam Lebor’s storytelling course, we covered the the basic framework of a story, and how conflict is a key element to narrative drive.

Conflict, however, does not exist in isolation; it has an effect on and is affected by your characters. By understanding what drives your characters, you can bring the conflict — and therefore your story as a whole — to life.

In the second class we examined character development and the seven steps to creating a strong protagonist or antagonist. By exploring our characters’ backstories, we can understand their motivations and goals, and therefore make their actions more believable.

THE SEVEN STEPS OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Biography
    What’s in a name, you ask? Only cultural associations, and indications of a person’s background, education and ethnicity. Where and when were they born, what was their family like? All of these details will influence your character.

    I’ll be honest: I regret picking Lilith as a name for the protagonist of Above Ground. But it seemed fitting at the time since it conveyed a demonic aspect of herself related to leading men astray.

  2. Key events
    Certain moments in our lives shape the person we become. Maybe it was getting that lucky break and being forever grateful, or missing by a hair and becoming bitter and twisted. What moments define your character?

    Silver, the male protagonist of Above Ground, was abandoned by his parents as a child and brought up by a monastic wolf pack. The one time he let his guard down to love someone, she left too. Needless to say, he has serious trust issues.

  3. Inner conflict
    How have the key events in their life created inner conflict? Perhaps your character gets that lucky break, but thinks someone else deserved it more. They don’t want to give up what they have, but are insecure of being revealed as a fraud.

    Because of Silver’s childhood, he struggles to trust people. However, his bond with Lilith forces him to feel something towards her, and the dependency frightens him.

  4. Motivation
    What does the character want or need, and why? Character motivation is central to any story, and it is a good idea to ensure that your characters have a personal stake in what will unfold.

    Lilith’s main motivation is survival, which is a strong, personal want. But Silver’s motivations run deeper: he is driven by the need to help his ailing alpha, because if she dies, the entire werewolf pack will fall apart. Family ties are excellent tools to up the stakes for your character.

  5. Expert or everyman
    How does the character fit into the story? Are they an expert at their job, like Sherlock Holmes, and therefore driving the story? Or are they an everyman like Frodo, reacting to what is happening?

    I’d never seen this distinction spelled out before, but it offers food for thought. Lilith is an every(wo)man, Silver an expert. The type of character you choose will affect how they behave in the story.

  6. Plan of action
    How does the character plan to achieve his goals? Your character needs to make plans and take action to drive the story forward.

    A problem I had with the first draft of Above Ground was that Lilith was little more than a pawn being tossed around. When revising, I made her make decisions and find her own path — even if it often led her astray.

  7. Obstacles
    What is blocking the character from getting what they want, and how will they (try) to overcome them?

    While Lilith is battling werewolves and demons to stay alive, she also must overcome an second, inner obstacle: herself, and the realisation of who she really is. These external and internal obstacles make her life hell, but make the story that much more thrilling.

As someone who generally operates under the “make-it-up-as-I-go-along” technique, I found inventing character backstories surprisingly inspiring — particularly when exploring the key events and how they fuelled inner conflict.

Some authors write diaries for their characters, or letters between characters, to help further build their backstory. I found jotting down notes against each of the seven steps enough to get the ideas flowing.

What about you? What tricks do you use to get into your character’s head?