Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Pop Poets of the Eighties

Now That's What I Call Music
It's tricky knowing where to begin with a review of the greatest singer-songwriters. Aside from narrowing down the massive span of time to something more manageable, how does one measure greatness? Inclusion on 'Now...' albums long ago ceased to have any value and airplay means little. Working with sales statistics seems a valid method on the face of it, except that unit sales and revenue lead to differing conclusions. Rarity makes art special, yet, as the name implies, it is popularity that ranks the world of pop music.

Nonetheless, I had to start somewhere, so I made a couple of mandatory decisions, the first being to focus on the 1980s. My reasoning is thus: this was the era when changes in recorded music formats were felt most significantly (vinyl to cassettes to CDs, the invention of the Sony Walkman and so on), not to mention being a time when young people, equipped for the first time with both lifestyle and expendable income, were able to exercise their right to consume and did so mostly through popular music.

The 1980s was also a time when the 'top of the pops' was an elite measured in millions, even if the advent of the MP3 has changed the way we consume music, making it difficult to accurately gauge popularity through sales, physical or virtual. A change in the British Phonographic Industry thresholds in 1989 further confounds comparisons, as this reduced the number of sales for a 'platinum record' from 1 million to 600,000. The effect is that in the 1980s there were 12 'platinum record' singles, with 10 selling more than 1 million copies and a further 8 going platinum after subsequent re-release, including Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love' (more on Soft Cell later). This compares with just 10 singles reaching over 1 million sales in the decade 2000-2009 (one of these being the re-release of Tony Christie's 'Is This The Way to Amarillo?').

The second reason for my choice is that in spite of 5 of the top ten selling singles of all time having been released in the 1970s, songs in the eighties were considerably more poetic (or prosaic, some might argue) and it is this creative capacity to combine music and poetry which appeals most to my writer's sensibility.

Accordingly, there are some entries in The Telegraph's 50 best British songwriters (Chris Harvey, 2008) that I can agree with, although it also includes a number of songwriters who don't sing their own songs, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (one need only look as far as Neil Sedaka to appreciate why), so I haven't included them in what follows: a brief consideration of those most noteable, given the focus of this post.


John Lennon
I live very close to Liverpool, sufficiently so for Londoners to call me a scouser and for Irish people to tell me I'm 'close enough', not to mention the countless times the good people of Philadelphia asked whether I knew the Beatles. Therefore I ought not to say anything untoward about Lennon or McCartney, who were both very good at what they did. In Lennon's case (no. 1 in the Telegraph list) in the end it was mostly being overtly political, with the exception perhaps of 'Woman', an ode for Yoko Ono and the first single issued after his death:

"Woman I can hardly express,
My mixed emotion at my thoughtlessness,
After all I'm forever in your debt,
And woman I will try express,
My inner feelings and thankfulness,
For showing me the meaning of success."


Kate Bush
Kate Bush comes in at No. 2 on The Telegraph list and whilst she has come up with some superb lyrics (and bizarre dances), her top selling single of the 1980s, 'Running Up That Hill' (1985), is lyrically mediocre at best:

"You don't want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware, I'm tearing you asunder.
Ooh, There is thunder in our hearts."




Morrisey / Johnny Marr
At No. 3 is the Smiths songwriting duo Morrissey and Johnny Marr. 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' reached number 10 in 1984 and is listed in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll:

"I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I'm miserable now

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I'm miserable now"

Not Morrissey's best, although still lyrically sound, but his later work is better:

"You have never been in love,
Until you've seen the stars,
reflect in the resevoirs

And you have never been in love,
Until you've seen the dawn rise,
behind the home for the blind"

And:

"You have never been in love,
Until you've seen the sunlight thrown
over smashed human bones"

First of the Gang (You Are The Quarry, 2004)


Paul McCartney
The other half of the Lennon-McCartney machine comes in at No. 4 and it has to said that for all his multi-platinum albums, Paul McCartney has written some terrible lyrics (Put It There If It Weighs A Ton, That's What The Father Said To His Younger Son). The 'Tug of War' album (1982) reached number 1 in most countries, due to the inclusion of 'Ebony and Ivory', a duet with Stevie Wonder. Aside from the beautiful piano metaphor, it is linguistically simple, politically powerful and just a little bit twee:

"We learn to live
When we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive
Together alive"




David Bowie
Skipping through The Telegraph list, we find David Bowie right down at No. 11, which doesn't seem anywhere near high enough a position for such consistent musical genius. His bestselling single of the 1980s, 'Ashes to Ashes' (1980) has seen him giving various interpretations of the lyrics himself - I'm not here to analyse, merely to provide examples for your delight or dismissal:

"Time and again I tell myself
I'll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again
I'm stuck with a valuable friend
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too"
One flash of light but no smoking pistol"




Queen / Freddie Mercury
With the release of 'One Vision' in 1985, Queen (no. 12) finally dispensed with crediting individual band members as having penned their hits, which is just as well. Freddie Mercury, arguably one of the greatest vocal performers and musicians of all time, was not the greatest lyricist, although on later albums, there are words clearly emanating from Mercury, such as the limerick form of this verse from 'Don't Try So Hard' (Innuendo, 1991):

"One day you'll be a sergeant major, oh you'll be so proud.
Screaming out your bloody orders, hey, but not too loud.
Polish all your shiny buttons
Dress as lamb instead of mutton
Though you never had to try to stand out from the crowd."

Queen's best-selling single was Another One Bites The Dust (The Game, 1980), written by John Deacon. There's no wonderful poetry within, but it does have one of the greatest bass riffs ever.




Elvis Costello (No. 14)
For all of Costello's critical acclaim, he's managed to get a fair few cover songs out there. Yet, his own work is truly beautiful and often performed by others, including 'Shipbuilding' (1983), which he described in a BBC Radio 2 interview as having "the best lyrics I've ever written". Interestingly, 'Veronica' (1989 - Costello's best-selling single) was co-written with McCartney, which just goes to show that Sir Paul writes best when he's writing with a partner.

"Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes"


Neil Tennant / Chris Lowe (No. 18)
As the Pet Shop Boys, Tennant and Lowe released many fine albums throughout the 1980s, with their second album 'Actually' (1987) going 3x platinum in the UK. The lead single 'It's a Sin' was a hit across Europe and in the US.

"Father, forgive me, I tried not to do it
Turned over a new leaf, then tore right through it
Whatever you taught me, I didn't believe it
Father, you fought me, 'cause I didn't care
And I still don't understand"




Paul Weller (No. 22)
Whilst Paul Weller is credited as being one of the greatest British songwriters, it is politics rather than poetry which leads to this assertion, as evidenced by 'Walls Come Tumbing Down' (1985) - the highest charting UK release for the Style Council.

"Governments crack and systems fall
'cause Unity is powerful -
Lights go out - walls come tumbling down!"

Also in amongst the list are: Bryan Ferry (no. 23), Annie Lennox / Dave Stewart (no. 28), Robert Smith (no. 31), George Michael (no. 34), Sting (no. 40) and Billy Bragg (no. 45), all of whom have demonstrated extraordinary lyrical prowess - on occasion. What impresses me most, however, is consistency and most songwriters have at least one really bad lyric in their back catalogue. Take, for instance:

"Then a voice I once knew answered in a sweet voice
She said hello then paused before I began to speak"
Babe - Take That, written by Gary Barlow (1993)

"With an ironclad fist I wake up and
French kiss the morning
While some marching band keeps
Its own beat in my head
While we're talking"
Bed of Roses - Bon Jovi (1992)

Now, whilst I can completely visualise what Jon Bon Jovi is trying to purvey, the 'ironclad fist' does not 'French kiss'. Nonetheless, this verse is one of the best descriptions of a hangover I've heard in pop-rock. As for Gary Barlow: he should know better (and probably does by now) than to repeat the same word twice in a line.

InThe80s.com has an interesting user compiled list of top ten eighties albums, within which a few artists crop up several times and in most cases demonstrate that consistent lyrical quality, or so I thought until I came across the following offerings:

Planet Earth are you just
Floating by, a cloud of dust
A minor globe, about to bust
A piece of metal bound to rust
Planet Earth, poem, by Michael Jackson


I've got no self control
Been living like a mole now
U2 - Elevation (All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2002) - voted no. 5 in the Top 10 Worst Pop Lyrics on BBC6 Music's Marc Riley Show

De Do Do Do De Da Da Da
The Police (1980) - need I say more?

I feel my world shake
Like an earthquake
Metallica - St. Anger (St. Anger, 2003)

Then there are those artists blessed with the capacity to provide us with the sublime and the ridiculous:

Dire Straits
A love-struck Romeo sings the streets a serenade
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made.
Finds a streetlight, steps out of the shade
Says something like, "You and me babe, how about it?"
Romeo and Juliet (Making Movies, 1980)

Now look at them yo-yo's that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
Money for Nothing (Brothers in Arms, 1984)


Marc Almond
Ultimately the only singer songwriter I can think of who has never produced a bum lyric is Marc Almond, formerly debauched vocalist of Soft Cell fame, these days a respected and respectable solo artist.

Watch the mirror count the lines
The battle scars of all the good times
Look around and I can see
A thousand people just like me
Bedsitter (Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, 1981)

I hear the saxophone and it tears my soul
And we're feeling old
feeling so cold
Torch (1982)

I tried to make it work
You in a cocktail skirt
And me in a suit
(Well it just wasn't me)
You're used to wearing less
And now your life's a mess
So insecure you see
Say Hello Wave Goodbye (Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, 1981)

On heavenly rain
You fell into my life
Unforgettable smile
Unforgettable lies
Tears Run Rings (The Stars We Are, 1988)

Skull faced moon and dull faced you
Grinning with mischief tonight
The shimmer of stars
The whisper of wind
This minute, tonight is the night, I saw
The Desperate Hours (Enchanted, 1990)




Admittedly, not all of Marc's songs are as poetically crafted as the examples above; however, they remain both lyrically and musically concordant: neither element is compromised for the sake of 'a good pop song' and for this alone he has to be my top pop poet, not just of the 1980s, but of all time.


Wikipedia Sources for UK Charts
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Singles_Chart
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_singles_of_the_2000s_%28UK%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_top_10_singles_%28UK%29#2010s
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3673508/50-best-British-songwriters.html

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Alighting at Procrastination Station

I did have a rather nice blog post lined up for today, but my research sidetracked into reading about J.R.R. Tolkien (see no. 6 below), which gave me a better idea for a quick post more in keeping with my current non-writing predicament.

So here you have it: a small list of links to help you while away that valuable writing time.
  1. http://www.zazzle.co.uk/writers+mugs - Mugs for writers - quite expensive, occasionally amusing, sometimes too old hat, but the black interior / white exterior design is very nice and there are lots and lots...
  2. http://www.cafepress.co.uk/+writers+mugs - More writers' mugs, as well as t-shirts and various other printable items.
  3. http://www.theliterarygiftcompany.com/ - A site from which to compile your Christmas list.
  4. http://justtherightbook.com/ - A survey with reading recommendations based on your answers (thanks to +Amanda Patterson for this one).
  5. http://writeordie.com/ - Free online / 10 USD downloadable edition of 'Write or Die' - a tool to force you to write.
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien - Wikipedia entry for Tolkien with so many links to other pages that you can easily waste a few hours trawling through the back-story of the 'legendarium'.
  7. http://www.litkicks.com/BeatGen - Literary Kicks section on the Beat Generation with pages for all members of the core group, links to associated articles etc.
  8. http://www.youtube.com - Search for and play all those old music videos you know and love.
  9. http://www.google.com - Search for your name - you can repeat this as often as you feel the need to reassure yourself that you still exist.
  10. http://gplus.to/deb248211 - Join Google+ and add writers to your circles. They will fill your stream with links to their blog posts and publications (often free), which will give you more reading material than you have hours to fill (please ask if you would like an invitation).
Now we should all go and write something, although...

Image from http://www.kilork.com/2011/04/procrastination-part-2/ - This is also a very helpful (and short) article if you are really struggling to focus on the task in hand.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Academic vs Creative Writer's Block: One and The Same Myth?


Typewriter Eraser [1]
In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I had the worst case of what I can only describe as academic writer's block, even though I do not necessarily believe it exists. The piece was only 1000 words in length and I was a good three-quarters of the way into it when I hit a wall. Try as I might (and I did many times), I just couldn't find a way to tie it all together, leaving me with no choice: I deleted the document and started again from scratch on the very last day before the submission deadline.

A Helium article suggests this is because:

"More often than not, the writer does the research and then jumps right into the first draft, and then wonders why he or she can't get past paragraph two. Another common variation is the writer who stares for long periods of time at the assignment instructions but can't think of a way to start. Both of these problems relate to deficits in the pre-writing phase." [2]

These are reasonable points, but I can confirm that neither account for my own experience. As always, I had started preparing well in advance of the deadline. I researched thoroughly and allowed myself plenty of time for planning, drafting and editing, so I can say with some certainty that there was nothing technically amiss with my 'pre-writing phase'; nor did I struggle to get started on the writing bit.

Ultimately the flaw lay in my plans and subsequent versions I drafted from these: when I finally plumped for the desperate, reckless act of deleting my work, I freed myself from the pencil flowcharts and reams of indexed quotations and references that were blocking my capacity to collate the information into a logical and coherent argument. However, by that point I was so familiar with the research and what I wanted to discuss that I was essentially working from the generously fleshed draft stored in my mind. It simply isn't possible to produce solid, rigorous academic writing without doing the legwork first.

But is there such a thing as academic writer's block? Paul Silva argues not:

"Academic writers cannot get writer’s block. Don’t confuse yourself with your friends teaching creative writing in the fine arts department. You’re not crafting a deep narrative or composing metaphors that expose mysteries of the human heart. The subtlety of your analysis of variance will not move readers to tears, although the tediousness of it might… Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with big paint sprayers who repaint your basement." [3]

I do agree with Silva up to a point, and potentially the comment 'do not substitute style for content' that appeared on one of my essays serves to mute a priori my counter-argument that academic writing, or at least good academic writing, is a creative process. OK, statistical analyses are dull and dry, but often what they show is far from it. How exciting it must be to conclude that the variation in light observed from a distant star is caused by the passing of an orbiting rocky planet, or to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the positive effects of a life-saving medicine. On such occasions, the skill is to create a narrative that defies the subjective joy of the researcher. It forces us to present alternative perspectives, in which we often hold no stock and in such a way that our readers can not detect where our own views lie.

My problem then, back in university, was how to produce an analysis of gender bias in the UK welfare system for a lecturer who had lost custody of his son and already attacked me in relation to the previous omission from my work of the oppression of white middle class males in said system. On the whole this demographic faired favourably and this wasn't just my opinion; the evidence was far-reaching, gleaned from a variety of sources and spread the full breadth of my living room floor. His experience was very real, but inasmuch as I had to provide balance in my account, so too was he bound by this same academic promise. Because I am a creative, academic writer, I gave him what he wanted, on paper at least, and told him what I thought to his face. The fall-out shaped the rest of my career in academia, although we eventually made up during a chance meeting over a Tesco shopping trolley.

So perhaps it is not 'writer's block' - in the sense that writing for academic purposes means re-routing the creative outputs of the human imagination: indeed, it may be more accurate to call it anti-creative writing and yet it takes as much conscious energy to suppress emotivity as it does to produce an original metaphor. On that note, I think Paul Silva's painting analogy is quite insulting to academic writers, because it fails to appreciate that the research they write about is continually demolishing and rebuilding the landscapes and portraits of their creative counterparts. Conversely, creative writing furnishes academic inspiration, as demonstrated by the inventions of science fiction and their realisation in science fact. The relationship is both symbiotic and synergetic.

Thus, the distinction between academic and creative writing is superficial: we wrongly perceive the former to require some level of meticulous preparation and planning that the latter does not.

"We’ve learned to think that creativity is a mysterious, disorganized “AH-HA” experience, where half-crazed geniuses strap steel rods to their skulls waiting for lightening [sic] to roar down from the heavens and sizzle into their heads as fully-formed ideas. This kind of creativity does happen, though about as often as actual lightning strikes." [4]

Initial inspiration may well arrive in lightning bolt style, but unless we can store all this energy and find a means of controlling its outward flow, then it may as well not bother striking us in the first place. This is the realm of writer's block - a Faraday cage of our own design. It is real, because we all experience it on occasion. The myth lies in our belief that it's always a bad thing, when sometimes we simply don't have anything to write about and in such circumstances we're probably doing everyone else a favour if we don't fight too hard to thwart it.

On the other hand, I was once acquainted with a reborn Christian who'd given up his job to sit at home and wait for God to tell him what to do. A year or two passed with no ethereal messages and I sometimes wonder if he is still there, watching and waiting, whilst the world is ravaged by famine, drought, war and countless other natural / unnatural disasters, all of which present opportunities for him to do God's work.

I mention this, not as critical comment on the absurdity of passive Christianity, but to illustrate that it is equally absurd to sit at home and wait for inspiration to form itself into neat little paragraphs without some conscious effort on our part. This is true of both academic and creative writing. Take an idea, build a plan and follow it. Sometimes writing is hard, but then so are most jobs. And if it isn't coming together, then rehash the plans, or trash them completely and start over.

Or wait for God.


References

Sunday, 21 August 2011

My Seizure Dog and Other New Additions

I'm currently researching publications to list on the site, which is a fairly arduous task, given that independent publishing means anybody can put out any old tripe and, much as I hate to cast myself as literary guardian, some of it really is a load of old tripe.

However, in my search through the CreateSpace bestsellers, I came across My Seizure Dog written and illustrated by 7 year old Evan Moss. Evan has epilepsy and tuberous sclerosis and the book tells of his expectations of what it will be like to have a dog to assist him, with all book sale proceeds going towards funding the dog's training. For just 10 US dollars, you get to own this fantastic little book, give a dog a worthwhile job and help Evan and other children like him.

This blog post will still be here after you've been and purchased a copy of My Seizure Dog...

Done that? Good for you!

Now, one of the best experiences of my life occurred when I was around Evan's age; that was many years ago, when Tom Baker donned his famous scarf and stomped across our tiny TV sets booming his assurances that he would protect us from the dastardly daleks. On this particular occasion, he was in attendance at a Doctor Who mini-exhibition in our local independent book shop (remember those?) and my dad took me to meet my hero, who was to be found amongst replicas of the usual props, sitting at a small table and looking extraordinarily relaxed, whilst K9 zipped about wildly.

"Have a jelly baby," he smiled, offering forth a small paper bag filled with his customary confectionary. I obeyed (what else could I do? He's a TimeLord, besides which I rather like jelly babies). He went on to quiz me with a few kindly questions and I nodded or shook my head in response to each. I was totally star-stricken.
"Have another jelly baby," he consoled and I politely accepted. "In fact, have a few more." I took another couple from the bag and hopefully managed to mumble a 'thank you' as I was reluctantly dragged from the shop, leaving Doctor Who to battle against the terrible monsters of this universe - cybermen, daleks and small children and their parents.

Hence, it won't surprise you that I'm recommending Nick Griffiths 'Dalek I Loved You', in which he shares his childhood memories of watching Tom Baker from behind the sofa (or not, according to Nick's parents). The book is a bargain at 4.93 US dollars (eBook) and already has some excellent reviews, including one from none other than David Tennant (the next best Doctor after Tom Baker): "A very funny book for anyone who grew up wearing Tom Baker underpants. I know I did."

Visit BeatenTrackPublishing.com for more information on these and other independent publications. We're adding new titles all the time, so you should definitely bookmark us, unless your bookmarks list would give the Google database a run for its money, in which case you should make a shortcut to us and leave it in a prominent location on your desktop!

Friday, 19 August 2011

An Interview with Debbie McGowan

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
One day I might write my autobiography and call it something like "If this was fiction it would be dismissed as too far-fetched", or perhaps something a bit catchier. Anyway, without digging too deep, I grew up in Southport, where I wasted my education before running away to London. I returned five years later with Nigel and decided to go to university at the age of 25, after giving birth to my two beautiful daughters. I'm a social scientist and a teacher, but I don't especially like humans as a species. Dogs are far superior - my dream of a perfect future consists of a house in Cornwall, with my dogs and my writing. And maybe some people, if they promise to keep quiet.

What do you do when you are not writing?
All the other things I have to do, whilst perpetually expressing my displeasure* at not having the time to write.

*Does not apply to walking my dogs (see above).

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

At school I remember being given essay titles in English and thinking 'What twist can I put on this?', so I suppose I started writing then really, but I didn't start writing Champagne until around 1996 (the stage show was co-written and produced with Nigel two or three years before) and I finished it in 2002.

Where do you get your ideas?
Wherever they happen to spring from. Champagne was the result of a night at the theatre, too much Newcastle Brown and a stage musical written with the intention to shock, given as it treated gay relationships as normal, which was not at all how it was in the early 1990s. At some point I decided the characters deserved more, so started to write the novel. In retrospect, I'd say that at the time of Hiding Behind The Couch, I needed a therapist, so I created one and gave him some friends along the way. Other ideas are really more 'spur of the moment', kind of like 'Whose Line Is It Anyway', using props and scenery derived from anything in my direct line of vision (real or imagined).

Do you ever experience writer's block?
I've occasionally sat and pondered over a blank blog page, but more often I find that I have the opposite problem, with too many 'plot bunnies' bouncing around. The outcome is still the same, in that I can't quite settle on which one to tame next, so end up not being very productive at all. However, the worst writer's block I had was during Champagne. I wrote the first three chapters, then finished my degree and teaching qualifications. It was another five years before I finally got to completing the story and at least three of those were spent silently screaming in frustration and editing out virtually everything I wrote within an hour of committing it to screen.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?
It depends on what I'm writing. For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I prefer to just write and see where the story takes me. The speed at which the narrative forms makes it feel a lot like reading someone else's book, in that I'll be typing a particular dialogue and all the while my brain is racing to the next part, wondering what might happen next. Having said that, November also sees me spending a lot of time staring into the mid-distance as I plot out the action in my head, so I guess that's kind of outlining. Otherwise I do have a few outlines ready for the next stage.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
'No Dice' is the fourth novel I've written that started life during NaNoWriMo, although it's obviously undergone some extensive editing since then. Without spoilers, it's about two teenaged boys, who are best friends, and it involves time travel. One of the boys (Ryan) buys a car with the money from his 17th birthday and the other (Saul) inadvertently ends up in 1987 as a consequence. The book was written with a teen audience in mind, although I'm told that it appeals to adult readers too.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Yes, there's definitely some real life in there! I used to know a real cool black guy with a flash car and a mobile phone, back in the eighties when hardly anyone had one. There were a few people about like that, but I also remember it being a much simpler time, at least in terms of young people having less need to conspicuously consume. That's a terrible burden for teenagers today - and their parents!

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I'd like to go back to the characters in Champagne, perhaps explore the future of Sammy and Champagne's relationship, although I also feel that it is complete as it stands and don't want to ruin it. I also really like the characters in Hiding Behind The Couch / No Time Like The Present; however, there are too many of them and perhaps they each deserve a novel in their own right.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
That I am a class traitor, for writing Hiding Behind The Couch, which is about middle class life. Maybe it's true of the book, but its creation served a therapeutic purpose and got me back on track with my writing, so it can't be all bad. The best compliment? I've been asked a couple of times to write people's biographies, which says so much more than words.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Keep doing it, even if it's only for yourself.

What books inspired you when you were a child?
Enid Blyton mostly - The Folk of the Faraway Tree was my favourite, but I read most (if not all) of the Famous Five books and really loved Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip books too. Alas I also have to admit to reading a couple of teen romance novels, the first of which, From Janie With Love, inspired the American bits in Hiding Behind The Couch.

If your book were made into a movie, who do you picture playing the lead characters parts?
This is a bit tricky, because I don't watch a lot of TV or film and when I do, it tends to be documentaries. Added to this, I also have a problem visualising my characters and see them more as emotions and intentions held together in some vague physical form. Nonetheless, I imagine that Andrew Lee Potts would make an exceptional Jack Davies (And The Walls Came Tumbling Down), against Alan Rickman's Professor Jericho, not that I'm one for typecasting!

No Dice is published September 2011 - visit BeatenTrackPublishing.com for more information.

Champagne / And The Walls Came Tumbling Down - both available through BeatenTrackPublishing.com.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

An Excuse to Write

Most professional authors will tell you that it's not possible to write a novel in 30 days, which is obvious - perhaps even more so to those of us who take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every November. During that time I often chat online to other authors and have yet to come across anyone who is deluded enough to believe that the manuscript sitting on their hard drive on December 1st is a completed work.

Nonetheless, the realistic appreciation NaNo novelists have for their 30 days' toil hasn't deterred the critics, who contend that events such as NaNoWriMo are not for real writers. Indeed, Laura Miller of Salon.com goes as far as to say:
NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it's largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. "Write Your Novel Here" was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.
The article was written in 2002, when NaNoWriMo was just three years old, and a quick search led to no further finds of such heavy-handed criticism, so it would seem that the event has proved its worth for the most part. However, what I find most objectionable is Miller's proposition that the writing workshops are stealing 'cultural spaces' from 'selfless readers' - a massive dismissal of the authors involved, whose work she perceives as having no cultural value whatsoever. She does go on to suggest that the world does not need any more novels, because she doesn't have time to read them all. Well, thank goodness for that!

This conservative attitude is nothing new and frequently rears its ugly head in relation to literature. The literary canon - a body of work, which up until the 1980s was dominated by white, male, 'Western' authors, continues to exclude the majority of popular works of fiction with snobbish disregard. I find myself skimming through The Guardian's Review supplement each Saturday with an expression fixed in disdain, as I try and fail to elicit a mote of interest in any of the publications reviewed therein. If nothing else, it serves as a useful example of the 'narcissistic commerce of writing' Miller gripes about, as more often than not, the novels are penned by middle-class / working-class-come-good authors, all writing within the accepted confines of the canon - books that sell because they look good on a book shelf, but are about as interesting to read and content-rich as a Shredded Wheat box.

The problem as I see it (but then I am a social scientist and a socialist) is that the Laura Millers of this world simply can not comprehend what it means to fit authorship into a normal existence, one that is already full to the brim with earning a living, caring for a family and so on. Taking part in something like NaNoWriMo is, for many, the only opportunity to give life to a novel. The alternative long haul of school runs, low-paid jobs, writing and sleeping could see a novel finished eventually, providing it or the author doesn't die before the final chapter: those '30 days of literary abandon' could make all the difference.

What most working class authors need is an excuse to write. They can't afford to give up the day job; partners aren't necessarily sympathetic; hungry children won't wait. What NaNoWriMo offers, above all else, is a community of authors who provide solidarity and the strength to fight, if only for 30 days, for the right to write. OK, so the end product more than likely won't be a beautifully crafted work of art and it may never become such a thing. As Joe Kissell, author of ITOTD blog says of his NaNoWriMo experience: "I ended up with something that must never again be read by anyone...", which is a risk we all take each time we start writing something new and is always a possibility, but a poor reason for not trying in the first place.

So, forget what Laura Miller says: on the contrary, NaNoWriMo is absolutely necessary because it will make you write. 50,000 words in 30 days means no time for continuous editing and back-spacing and it is all about quantity, not quality. A lot of what you produce will fit neatly with founder Chris Baty's description of 'a load of crap', but it can be edited and honed later. And if you're thinking "You can't polish a turd", bear in mind there's a whole host of journalists making a living out of doing exactly that every Saturday in The Guardian Review supplement.

References
Laura Miller 'Better yet, DON'T write that novel.' http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/11/02/nanowrimo

Joe Kissell 'National Novel Writing Month. Becoming a novelist in 30 days.' http://itotd.com/articles/606/national-novel-writing-month/

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Truth About Publishing

Hieronymus Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell
Let's face it, trying to secure a publishing deal is the holy grail of every author and not just because it promises a chalice positively overflowing with royalties, screenplay options and film deals. Being published is the ultimate self affirmation: somebody likes your work and believes that others will like it too. The outpourings of your heart and mind are your currency, exponentially inflated through publication.

But it is also a dangerous, soul-destroying quest that would have Indiana Jones retiring into academia before the first trial.

In the event that you haven't already traversed the route of the aspiring published writer, it goes something like this:

  1. Find an agent currently accepting submissions in the genre of your novel. If you fail here, go straight to step 3.
  2. If you actually manage to succeed in finding an agent, then congratulations! You've beaten odds akin to those of winning a national lottery jackpot. Just do as your agent says and hope that they have at least some of your best interests at heart. Hopefully a publishing deal will materialise at some point in the near future and you may even make a few pence along the way.
  3. Find a publisher of novels in your specified genre who is currently accepting unsolicited submissions. If you fail here, then you could try just sending them anyway, which, at best, will probably result in a terse response explaining that the publisher does not accept unsolicited submissions and a recommendation that you find yourself an agent. See step 1.
  4. Assuming you are 'going it alone', send off manuscript samples as per submission requirements of the publisher(s) - usually the first three chapters plus synopsis and covering letter - A4 single side, double line-spacing.
  5. Wait impatiently for responses from publishers. These initially come in 2 forms: a 'thanks but no thanks - keep up the good work, you cheeky lil writer, you'; or a somewhat more optimistic request for the full manuscript (usual presentation conventions apply). If all you get is the former, then return to step 1 or step 3, depending on how you're feeling about the whole sorry saga. Alternatively, bob out of the publishing rat race and go for broke.
  6. Once again, wait impatiently for responses from publishers. They've got your manuscript - it'll take a while, so perhaps take up crochet or pottery in the mean time - it may even blossom into a whole new hobby to fill the void of writing once the publishers reject your manuscript and thus, you conclude, reject you as a person worthy of occupying space and time. On the off chance that your novel fits their current schedule, looks like it might sell a few copies and doesn't need too much work, the publisher might send you THAT LETTER, in which case you've well and truly beaten all the odds, defied nature, achieved the impossible. Warn your family to expect your recommendation for a sainthood some time after your dear departure.
If you are one of the lucky few to find a publisher for your novel, then it is worth bearing in mind that your trials are probably far from over. Depending on the type of deal you secure, you may well find yourself repeating the submission nightmare over and over again. Not only this, but your royalties (and this is the best case) will amount to around 15% of the cover price of each copy sold and if it's not selling, then it's the bargain basement for you and the publishers are cutting their losses.

Why Self-Publish?

Why not?
You really do have very little to lose and everything to gain by taking the self-publishing route. For one thing, you avoid having to deal with all those 'important' people in the publishing industry who couldn't care less how you feel when they reject your work. However, there are still a few points to consider before you dive straight in, the most important being an objective assessment of the work you intend to publish.

Take a step back
The first assessment has to be your own: write your book, edit and spellcheck, then leave it alone for a while. This creates some distance between the process and the final product, allowing you to look at it in a slightly different light.

When you're ready, read it as if it was written by somebody else (i.e. don't edit or think too hard about what you were trying to achieve). If you do spot any mistakes, make a note of where they are and edit later.

Find a friendly (but honest) proofreader
The best person to give your work an honest review is somebody who knows you well enough to tell you what they really think, but will spare your feelings in the process. Of course this is only one opinion, but it should at least give you a sense of whether the thing works at all. If, for instance, you have written a novel, then give your proofreader some instruction - ask them to read it in the same way as they would read any other book, then ask questions:
  • Are the characters believable?
  • Which character did you like best?
  • Does the plot flow?
  • Can you follow the plot?
  • Are there any obvious holes?
  • Does the writing style detract from the story / subject matter?
  • What was the best bit?
  • Did you forget it was mine when you were reading it?
This last question might seem like a strange one, but a good novel should encapsulate your reader and if it does so on a first draft, then this is a really good sign. And even if it doesn't tick all of the boxes, it might just need a bit of an edit.

Make some comparisons
Most authors are also avid readers of books, so you probably already have a clear idea of what a good / bad publication looks like. That said, it is worth taking a trip to your local supermarket to flick through some of the mass market publications on display - there's a very strong possibility that your work will kick the ass of most of these dreadful books and if they can sell copy, then so can you!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Website in Beta, Google+

Just a quick post to say the website is up in 'beta' form, with many parts unfinished. However, there should be enough there for people to get the gist and give feedback (I would very much welcome it, in fact).

You can access the site here: http://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/index.php.

I've also been getting into Google+, for the reasons given by Johanna Garth in this excellent post, which I won't repeat here, as it would be pointless!

In short, it's been a busy week, but all is going well.

If you would like to add your work to the Beaten Track site, please contact me.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Preparing a Novel for Print #4: Electronic Publishing

Book
When Publishers Weekly asked publishers (of bestsellers with sales of more than 100,000 in 2010) for figures on ebook sales, the majority refused to provide the information, but as the graph below demonstrates, many bestselling publications were selling significant quantities in electronic formats in 2010. [1]

Other reports indicate that digital sales accounted for anything between 11 and 22 per cent of revenue of large publishing houses in the first quarter of 2011. [2] Perhaps more impressive are the statistics for Kindle books compared to their hardcover/paperback counterparts: in the US, Kindle edition sales surpassed paperback sales in January 2011; the UK Kindle store opened in 2010, with Kindle book sales now standing at more than twice that of hardcover books. [3]

Fig. 1: Top 10 Hardcover Print/e-book Combined Sales as Reported (2010)[1]

What this tells us is that the electronic publishing market is growing rapidly (graphically demonstrated below) and traditional publishers don't like it. I would speculate that this has a lot to do with profit margins: low production costs for ebooks means there is no justification for over-pricing and yet the current bestselling book on Amazon.co.uk (One Day by David Nicholls, published by Hodder Paperbacks, 2010) is priced at £3.79 for the paperback and £4.99 for the Kindle Edition.[4]

In part, this is due to Amazon's royalty policy, with the 70% rate applying to publications falling within their standard pricing bracket, but even at 35%, the miniscule percentage that goes to authors means publishers are raking it in, or at least they would be if they still monopolised the market.


Fig 2: US Trade Wholesale Electronic Book Sales [5]

More importantly, publishers do not control electronic publishing, although, as ever, there are plenty of companies out there ready to profiteer from authors' hard work by offering ebook conversions at ludicrously high rates. For instance, we were quoted just under $140 (about £84 at time of posting) to convert a 200 page novel to epub format, a process which took me less than half an hour on a first attempt with new software.

The key point here is this: you would do well to publish your work in electronic formats, regardless of whether you also decide to go with a hardcover/paperback edition. However, you should not pay through the nose for this service.

Below you will find some pointers to get you started on your own ebooks - they are only brief pointers (recommended formats and software), as this is something Beaten Track can do for you (for a sensible price, usually less than £30 for multiple formats - contact us for a detailed quotation).


eBook Formats
There are many ebook formats out there, but as a minimum, you should look to publishing these:
  • HTML (.html)
  • Kindle (.azw)
  • EPUB (.epub)
  • Mobipocket (.mobi)
  • Microsoft Reader (.lit)
  • PDF (.pdf) versions.

All of these versions support images and all but HTML allow for bookmarking.

ePublishing Software
Sigil
Sigil is designed to edit in ePub format, is open source software and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. You will need to import your manuscript in plain text, html or epub format. If you import in plain text, then all styling can be done within Sigil itself and you can switch between WYSIWYG and code view, add chapter breaks, build a table of contents, insert images etc. I imported from HTML and found it was a bit fussy, but it kept all of the specified styling and automatically generated a table of contents from my chapter headings.

Once you've formatted your manuscript in Sigil, it will check to ensure that it's valid.

You can download Sigil here: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list

Calibre
Calibre is a fully featured ebook management system, which is also open source and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. It will import and export in a wide variety of formats (everything listed above, except Kindle).

You will need to validate exported epub files externally, via an online tool or software such as EpubCheck (see below).

For Kindle, you can produce a 'Kindle friendly' mobi format / html, with associated image files in a directory that is then uploaded via Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/).

You can download Calibre here: http://calibre-ebook.com/download

EpubCheck
Epubcheck is a Java based ePub validator, which runs from the command-line or as a server-side web application.

You can download Epubcheck here: http://code.google.com/p/epubcheck/downloads/list.

However, you might find it easier to use an online validator, such as http://threepress.org/document/epub-validate/.

Concluding Comments
As with any publication, check your files thoroughly before making them available - there may well be characters in your text that don't show up correctly in differing formats and other display issues in need of some tweaking. Once you're happy with your ebook, you will find plenty of online outlets who will list your title and they will tell you which formats they accept. Just upload your files and you should be all set!

References
  1. Maryles, D. (2011). 'E-books Rock.' Publishers Weekly. March 17th 2011.
    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/46517-e-books-rock-facts--figures-2011.html
  2. Book Publishing Software (2011) 'eBook Sales Statistics.' http://www.bookpublishingsoftware.com/2011/05/ebook-sales-statistics-2011/
  3. Murray, P. (2011). 'Amazon’s Kindle Books Outsell Hardcover and Paperbacks For First Time.' Singlularity Hub. May 22nd, 2011. http://singularityhub.com/2011/05/22/amazons-kindle-books-outsell-hardcover-and-paperbacks-for-first-time/
  4. Amazon.co.uk 'One Day by David Nicholls'. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0340896981/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=b10track-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=0340896981
  5. IDPF (2011). 'Industry Statistics.' http://idpf.org/about-us/industry-statistics

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Writer's Toolbox

Writer's Toolbox
Online Presence
Blog
During the past week I've come across a fair few responses to the question: "Should Writers Blog?" and most of them suggest that we shouldn't, for a variety of highly valid reasons. The most pertinent are perhaps that:

Keeping a blog uses precious time that could better be spent writing
There is an assumption here that writing for a blog is somehow not really writing at all, although the professional bloggers of the world might disagree. However, writers come in a variety of shapes and sizes: if a novelist, for instance, is regularly taking time out from 'novelling' to post on their blog, then the process may well be counter-productive. On the other hand, in other jobs, one might share a coffee break with colleagues and chat about the morning's work - a privilege that does not extend to the voluntary solitary confinement of the writer. Thus, keeping a blog can be a way of sharing what we're working on and how we feel about it, which can be cathartic, but also leads to the second reason given for why writers shouldn't blog.

Writers' blogs tend to be about writing
Yes, yes, I know that I'm doing exactly this (which is intentional, because in a moment I will surmise that blogging is an essential tool in my toolbox). The problem with blogs about writing is that there is a very real risk of recursing into a black hole: "In a recent blog post I wrote about writing blogs about writing...". This kind of meta-writing isn't helpful to anyone, but you can circumnavigate the event horizon by ensuring that every post is unique and fresh: let readers know what you're working on, provide links to your work and other useful information. This way you get to write about your writing AND your regulars will consider it a special insight or a sneak preview of what is to come, rather than the lunatic ramblings of their favourite author gone mad.

A blog is an essential tool
A writer's blog is essential to self-marketing, but it's also a busman's holiday, which isn't a problem when you love your job; however, it should be treated as such, meaning no unscheduled stops. We are only partly defined by where we choose to take our vacation, the rest comes from what we do for the other 50 weeks of the year. Likewise, a blog is just one small, yet crucial, element of our work as writers - a g-clamp, if you will, that holds the timber in place so we can set to it with another tool.

Twitter
If blogging is too time-consuming, then micro-blogging is a very good alternative, although it is useful to have both. Tie these in with the rest of your online presence, by tweeting about your latest blog post, connecting your Facebook and Twitter accounts, retweeting useful or interesting things from other people, links to sites you like, where your work can be purchased and, of course, the occasional comment on what you're up to.

Facebook
As an educator, I've been heavily involved in the debate over whether teachers should 'friend' their students on Facebook. Many of the points raised relate to invasion of privacy, so I'll start by getting one thing clear: Facebook is NOT private. It is as public as your local high street, where you will come across people you know well, those you have met once or twice and maybe some you don't know at all. You choose who to talk to and who to avoid; you decide what information to divulge, depending on the audience at any given time. However, there is always the possibility that you will be overheard and every likelihood you will be seen by others, regardless of whether you are aware of the fact.

The suggested alternative is to create both a personal and a professional profile, which is a good idea, as it separates your friends and family from your fans and colleagues. However, calling it 'personal' doesn't detract from the profile being on a public social network, so you still need to act responsibly. This point also applies to your actions anywhere else online.

If you remember that Facebook is a public place and act accordingly, then it can be utilised very effectively as part of your writer's toolbox. Create pages for your work so that others can 'like' it. You can also 'add' other writers (and fans), post links to your favourite music, comment on how you're feeling, what you're doing or whatever. Anything goes, so long as that's 'anything' you'd do in your local high street.

Google+
There are currently two lists of authors on Google+ (see below) and so far, adding them to my Writers Circle has proved to be the most useful aspect of Google+. Otherwise, joining is another step towards internet omnipresence, so is a good idea, but also means you'll need to post occasionally, otherwise no-one will notice you're there.

Lists of Writers on Google+

Online Tools
Thesaurus
More often than not, I use Microsoft Word's thesaurus, for the sake of convenience, or a hardback Roget's Thesaurus for intellectual abandonment, but there are plenty of online versions that go well beyond these in terms of depth and / or convenience.

The Big Huge Labs page links to a substantial thesaurus, but also has some great ideas for blog posts and plot lines.

Alternatives to Said
Enough said!

Name Generators

Go Analogue
Notepad
Maybe it's just me, but I need to have a real paper, ring-bound notepad next to my computer. It's especially useful for jotting down any ideas that spring to mind when writing, noting mistakes when proof-reading, making a flowchart of my plot or just plain doodling. I find it's far easier to glance at my notepad than it would be to switch documents or applications and because I also spend a lot of time working on websites, I've found that the squared rather than lined variety works better for me. The best thing about this is that these types of notepads are usually available in discount shops (mine come from Lidl supermarket), so they're cheap enough to avoid becoming precious items.

Plastic Eraser
I attended about four technical drawing lessons at high school and was deeply disappointed to find I couldn't continue with them after I chose to study Latin. However, in those four lessons I learned one thing (well, two in fact - see below) and it's that plastic erasers are wonderful. They don't crumble or discolour to the same extent as the non-plastic varieties (rubber, for instance), they rarely smudge or tear the paper, making them superior in removing pencil marks cleanly.

Pencils
Lovely Staedtler pencils: yellow and black striped, easy to sharpen, difficult to break, long-lasting - they may be painted to look like stretched wasps and somewhat more expensive than other brands, but they are worth every penny. I'm not on commission here and don't usually bestow the virtues of particular named brands, but when our technical drawing teacher said these were the best, I get the feeling he knew what he was talking about.

And It's All Mine!
As the title of this post suggests, this is MY writer's toolbox; contents may vary. I could also add to this the necessity of a comfortable working environment, good keyboard, decent chair etc. The key here is that the tools of your trade are YOUR tools, selected and fashioned for you specifically. And remember: a good workman doesn't blame his tools [sic], but he doesn't share them either.


Image Attributions

Friday, 5 August 2011

Books of the Future

When I first developed a passion for the music of Queen, one of my dad's friends recorded his entire collection of vinyl on to audio cassettes for me. At the time I was about 11 years old and had no conception of the illegality of his kindness and was yet to develop the moral sense I possess now in relation to stealing from artists. However, my sole income was £1 per week pocket money, so I simply couldn't afford to buy the albums myself; my parents probably thought my sudden enthusiasm for all things Queen was a passing phase: transient and unworthy of investment.

Thirty years on I can confirm that it wasn't a fad and one by one I replaced those old cassettes with shiny 12 inch vinyl records, bought new on release day for the later titles, acquired secondhand otherwise. Researching for this post, I was saddened by the news that the shop from which I bought the Queen back catalogue, Sellanby Records in South Harrow, closed a couple of years back:

It was probably a couple of years ago when Eastcote Sellanby closed its doors. Memorable mostly for its extensive collection of Rolf Harris paraphernalia it was never a source of gasp-out-loud finds.... Since the shop's demise I have often pondered the fate of Rolf' miscellany.

And so I consoled myself with the knowledge that there still remained the South Harrow Sellanby. But no more. From a distance all seemed well, the gaudy yellow sign still proudly protruded from above the shop, but then I saw the Sellanby sign lying forlornly on the ground. It had been violently chopped in half and within the shop a couple of men were lazily measuring planks of wood.

Rupert Cook
http://turntablerevolution.blogspot.com/2008/07/secondhand-record-shop-closes.html

Like everyone else in the late 1980s, I owned a 'walkman' (although it was a Panasonic model rather than the Sony trademarked original), so out came the cassettes again and convenient as they were, they just weren't the real deal, even when appropriately purchased from a reputable source - usually Sellanby's. After that I partially replaced my albums with CDs (for 'replace' read 'put the vinyl in a cupboard for safe-keeping') and these days have MP3 versions of everything in my Queen collection. I no longer need to buy two copies to keep one in mint condition and making a duplicate just in case the original gets damaged or lost is easy. But...

The thing is, books are the writer's vinyl; their physical presence makes what we do real - our words in print - real ink on real paper in a real book. In a blog post I came across earlier this week (I can't find it, will attribute when I do), the author referred to his love of books, adding that ebooks are OK for reading on a Kindle at 60,000 feet (or words to that effect). I completely understand what he means and remember expressing the opinion that ebooks would never replace physical books. That was some time ago, but I do still believe this; even though Kindle versions are outselling paperbacks on Amazon, there remains a nostalgia and emotional connection shared by readers and authors alike for the 'real thing'.

For all of this, I'm currently ploughing through a CreateSpace paperback proof copy - a process which highlights the pros and cons of both electronic and physical formats. The typographical errors are immediately apparent, which was not the case in previous onscreen examinations. This, of course, means resubmission of the corrected manuscript and ordering another proof copy (this one took 6 weeks to reach me in the UK), delays which do not apply when dealing with ebooks, although the errors would have passed me by completely.

At the same time, I've changed the price of the Kindle edition of And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, reducing it to 99 cents. I'm duly waiting out the 24 hours it takes for Amazon to update, after which I'll be adding it to the 99 Cent Network. Here again, the ease of completing this process leads me to conclude that I must 'get with the program' and stop hankering after the past. On the other hand, my co-pilot has accumulated many flying hours today in his endeavours to validate the epub version of 'Walls' (as he insists on calling it, much to my irritation) and by comparison it was far easier to sort out the page setup for the paperback edition.

Perhaps there will always be room in this world for both, certainly for as long as there are places lacking the technology (and electricity) required to access electronic formats. Likewise, it is difficult to assess whether ebooks will prove to be greener in the long run, given the rate of change and subsequent rise in environmental costs associated with manufacturing / waste.

Whatever form the books of the future take, the one thing that is certain is that there will always be books, because there will always be those who read and those who must write. As Groucho Marx said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Preparing a Novel for Print #3: Copy Pages

Pick up any book and you will find that it's a good few pages before the real content begins. This first section contains all of the information about the book, including the title and copyright information, and there is an expected order that these pages follow.

Whilst most of the pages are optional, you do need to include two as a bare minimum: one each for the title and copyright / publishing information.  A point to consider here is the cost of adding extra pages - this depends on the printing service you are using. If your print company uses price bands based on the number of pages (i.e. up to 200, 300, 400 pages and so on), then keep a check on whether including optional pages takes you up into the next price band, as any increase in printing costs is likely to also increase the cover price of your book.

Also bear in mind that how the book is bound can result in blank pages being added to the end of your book. Lulu's binding process means that the total number of pages needs to be divisible by four, whereas Createspace only require an even number of pages.

Otherwise, as long as Chapter One starts on an odd numbered page (so that it falls on the right side of the open book), you can choose the copy pages that suit your needs. Ideally, you should use the same font as the rest of your book (usually Times New Roman), although you can play around with the size.

Click on page images to view larger versions.

Page 1: Title Page #1
If you are including a second title page, then you only need to include your book's title here. If you are only using the one title page, then you could also include the author's name. It is perfectly acceptable to keep this simple, with a centre-aligned, typed title (perhaps in bold text and a bit larger than your normal text). However, you can add a small image, to tie the inside and cover of your book together.

IMPORTANT: make sure any images included in your book are of a high enough resolution (300 dpi should do it - you will need to properly create and insert the image into your document and check it is embedded properly if converting to PDF).

You could even use an image for your title page, as demonstrated here with Tom Holt's latest release. This is particularly useful if you have used a non-standard font for your title, or a cover image that is your title and translates well into black and white.


Page 2: Previous Publications Page
If you have other published works, then it's a good idea to let your readers know by including an 'Also by...' page.

This is optional and you could include this information on your title page if you are desperate to keep your total number of pages as low as possible.

Page 3: Title Page #2
Again, this page is optional, but if you use it, then include the title and author.

This page normally includes the publisher, so if you don't have a label under which you (self) publish, then ignore this.


At this point I need to include some blatant marketing!

Beaten Track offers authors the use of the Beaten Track Publishing label for free. 

How this works is:
  • You send us an electronic copy of your manuscript and we read it to ensure that it is something we would be happy to put our name to.
  • We provide you with the logo and other images for insertion on the cover and inside your book (or add these for you if you are using our pre-publication services).
  • We create a page for you and your book(s) on our website, with affiliate links to Amazon (this is how we make our money from your book) and any other links you wish to include.

If you would like to use this or any of our services, please contact us: info@beatentrackpublishing.com.


Page 4: Copyright / Publishing Information Page
This page is the most important for protecting your rights as an author and you will find that the statement included in most publications is fairly standard.

As can be seen in the copy page on the left, there is some key information to include on this page:
  1. The year of first publication - if your book has previously been published in any other format, then this needs to be reflected here.
  2. Copyright date and owner.
  3. Statement regarding copyright permissions - if you intend to keep your book in the public domain, then this would need to be changed to reflect this.
  4. The ISBN number for your publication.
  5. Information on the cover design - vital if your cover was designed by someone else.
  6. (optional) Link to online location where more information about the book / author can be found, or link to publisher (see above).



Page 5: Dedication

This is another optional page, where you dedicate your book as you see fit.

I also use this page to include a disclaimer regarding the fictional nature of the work, but this could be added to the copyright page if number of pages is at a premium.


Page 6: Quotation
Again, this is an optional page, but you can use it for an inspirational quotation.

As always, quotations should be appropriately attributed.


Summary
Your title and copy section will usually take up 2 - 6 pages (always an even number) of your book, with a title and copyright page as the absolute minimum you can get away with. As detailed in a previous post, your page numbers start after this and, depending on the type of publication, you might also want to add a contents section here too (but that's for later).

The first section of your book is vitally important in providing the necessary information about the title, copyright holder and publication details. If your pages should break free of their cover, then it should still be obvious what the book is, based on these pages.