Saturday, 24 September 2011

Surrealism, Erotica, Burgers and Cyberpunk - Updates and Latest Additions

You've no doubt heard the old London bus adage about waiting for ages, only for three to turn up at once. Well, it's been a bit like that here lately - not with buses, you understand. This week we've added no less than four new authors and nine new publications.

One of these is No Dice, which I've already posted about, so I won't say any more on that, other than recommending that you buy it - just 86p for the Kindle Edition? What a bargain!

Anyway, on with the task at hand:

As suggested by the title, this collection of "nine sizzling tales of love and lust" is one for the adult audience (specifically: those who enjoy erotica). A quick visit to Sharazade's blog finds her participating in a 'Hands-on Kink' workshop at the recent Erotic Authors Association conference - confirmation that the author has a firm grasp (ahem) of erotic fiction and takes her research very seriously!

Transported is available in a variety of formats (Paperback, Kindle, ePub, RTF, PDF, PDB and Plain Text), from around 5.00 USD (3.50 GBP) for electronic versions and 7.93 GBP (Amazon UK) / 10.07 USD (Amazon.com) for the paperback.



I'll confess straight up that I haven't read this yet, as I've been reviewing Automatic Assassin (see below), but I have just bought the Kindle edition, based on the reviews on the Amazon.com page for the paperback edition. Needless to say (as I wouldn't have added it to the site / bought it otherwise), the reviewers are unanimous in their opinion that this is an excellent debut novel from 'an author to look out for'. Some even go as far as to say that it doesn't read like a debut novel at all.

"A largely forgotten and apparently ordinary street, Ivetha has a strange, unexpected effect upon the people who happen to encounter it...": this intellectual, surreal compendium of characters' encounters with Ivetha is literary fiction, which is a refreshing change, especially as it's priced within the pop fiction bracket.

Ivetha is available in both Paperback (11.99 USD - Amazon.com) and Kindle editions (1.40 GBP - Amazon UK; 2.29 USD - Amazon.com).





These two novels constitute the first two parts of the Truxxe Trilogy, following the adventures of Tom Bowler, "young, polite and intelligent" and recently employed burger boy in an intergalactic fast food restaurant.

The Truxxe Trilogy is a humourous space adventure, aimed at late teenage - adult readers, with part 3 currently underway. If you're quick, you can also get a signed copy of parts 1 and 2 for a mere 9.99 GBP each!

All Aliens Like Burgers:
Signed Paperback Edition (Amazon UK)
Audio Book (SpokenWordAudio)

Do Aliens Read Sci-Fi:
Signed Paperback Edition (Amazon UK)



Automatic Assassin (plus 3 other titles and a freebie) by Marc Horne
Marc Horne claims that he "slowly writes novels and then gives them away", which isn't strictly true, although the first contact I had with Marc did involve him pointing me in the direction of Nervous Teeth Drink All The Poison - a collection of short stories that is indeed free. I'd also contend that he doesn't write slowly either, given that all of the titles available were published in the past 4 years.

Regardless of the (at least partly) misleading self-description, it's absolutely true to say that Marc Horne is a very talented and diverse author. Nervous Teeth is an utterly bizarre and subsequently hilarious collection of short stories, with the pre-requisite and much needed disclaimer about characterisation. Look out particularly for 'Morrisey Under Pressure: A Science Fiction Adventure' - and yes, that is our gladioli flinging Brit icon in the flesh, more or less.

Notwithstanding Marc Horne's capacity to give away his toils for free, he deserves to make a bit of money along the way, so I recommend that you buy yourself a copy of Automatic Assassin, which Horne describes as "A cyberpunk space opera about Xolo, a man who replaced his conscience with a machine". This time he's telling the truth, yet there is so much more to this book, due to the author's ability to coherently weave social commentary, humour, philosophy and zombies into a single plot (full review on Amazon.co.uk).

Automatic Assassin:
Kindle Edition - 1.71 GBP (Amazon UK); 2.76 USD (Amazon.com)
Paperback - 9.99 USD (Amazon.com)

Also by Marc Horne:


Finally...
I've finished the Free Reads page on the Beaten Track website and populated it with a few classics, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

If you would like to recommend your own or other work that is available for free, just send us the details via this link: Free Reads Form.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Review of A1CS X220 Tablet

A1CS X220 v2 CAPACITIVE MULTI-TOUCH TABLET 10.2" ANDROID 2.2, WIFI, MIFI, HDMI, 1080P WITH CAM

I wanted a tablet. I really, really wanted a tablet. But I couldn't afford to buy one, so I wandered the internet, lost and aimless, coveting all the lovely tablets I couldn't have, knowing that my life would remain meaningless until I made one mine.

In my determination, I toiled hard, saving up points on market research sites and converting them to Amazon vouchers. I implored my family to give me vouchers for my birthday and finally, as the month of August relented on its struggle to keep back the autumn, I gathered together all that I had accumulated and returned once more to gaze upon my beloved.

Yes, well... suffice to say, I've spent many months researching tablets, trying to find the one that best suited my requirements and I'm absolutely sure I made the right choice when I opted for the A1CS tablet. What follows is a full review based of my usage of the tablet so far (2 weeks) and my contact with A1CS, whose customer service has been exceptional. However, I will start with a brief explanation of why I chose this particular model.

The first decision anyone intending to purchase a tablet makes is whether to go for Android, Apple or another operating system (OS), although I mention Android and Apple specifically, as they are the market leaders and for good reason: Apple are famed for their slick designs and ease of use, making the iPad a safe choice for many who want the plug and play straight out of the box experience. However, Android tablets are available from many of the best-known mobile device manufacturers (Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Acer, to name a few) and also ship with a variety of applications pre-installed (more on this later), including those that come as standard, putting the two devices on a level footing (at the very least) in this regard.

My previous experience with both Android and Apple's iOS also influenced my decision: I own a Motorola Dext - an Android phone, which runs 1.6, so is a bit out of date and can be quite slow, but it is reliable, straightforward and, like most Android devices, can be customised to suit the individual's requirements. The reason I say 'like most Android devices' is that many of the less expensive tablets have limitations (lack of access to the Android Market, for instance) - this is NOT the case with the A1CS tablet, although it is limited to free apps only, which I didn't realise until I read the product information and I've been downloading apps throughout the time I've had it.

Before I go any further, I feel I ought to clarify that I'm not anti-Apple. I've used Macs (desktops and laptops) since 1993 and they really are excellent machines. I don't personally own any of Apple's mobile devices, so can't really offer a fair comparison of the iPad to the A1CS tablet, although I have borrowed the occasional iPod and iPhone and I've had a play on a friend's iPad. There is no denying the excellent touch responsiveness of this device, but in terms of costs (both financial and Apple's Big Brother approach to user autonomy) I simply couldn't justify shelling out that sort of money.

Thus, I decided early on that I would opt for an Android tablet, so it was merely a case of finding the right one and I had a number of important criteria in mind:
  • ratings and reviews
  • customer / product support
  • price
  • potential to upgrade the OS
  • ease of operation / responsiveness
  • access to Android Marketplace
  • connectivity / build quality
Needless to say, I plumped for the A1CS tablet and I've outlined each of these aspects below, in relation to this model and with comparisons, where appropriate.

Ratings and Reviews
Amazon offers customers the opportunity to provide a rating of up to 5 stars, along with a written review, both of which make for a good indication of whether the product is up to scratch. A product with a substantial number of reviews which maintains a high rating is a good indication of product / customer service quality. At the time of writing, this is how the following 10.x inch Android WiFi tablets fair:

Model
OS
Price (GBP)
No. Reviews
Rating /5
2.1
195.99
5
3
3.0
339.00
54
3.5
2.2
179.99
56
3.5
3.0
413.17
95
4
3.0
324.88
16
4
2.2
176.98
7
4.5
2.2
159.89
123
4.5
2.2
179.99
2
(including this one)
5


*This is the same tablet as reviewed here, but with a resistive, single-touch screen, rather than capacitive, multi-touch screen.

So, having read all of the Amazon reviews for all of the tablets listed above, then searched the internet for 'professional' reviews (which essentially agreed with Amazon customers), I purchased the A1CS tablet with resistive screen. Alas, after a few hours I realised that it was the wrong tablet for me: I have carpal tunnel syndrome and whilst the pressure required to operate the screen is not great, it was too much for me, so I contacted A1CS and explained my situation. They offered me an unconditional refund, but also informed me that the capacitive model was due to be released imminently. Given that I couldn't fault the tablet in any way other than the screen (and this isn't a fault with the machine), I was more than happy to pay the extra for the capacitive version.

It's well worth reading at least some of the reviews yourself, but in short, what you will find is that the A1CS reviewers consistently cite the excellent speed, responsiveness and connectivity of the device, as well as the outstanding customer service. I've used both the resistive and capacitive versions and can confirm that these strengths apply to the capacitive version.

Customer / Product Support
At this point, I am struck by an overwhelming urge to gush forth excessive praise for A1CS, because my experience of their customer service is that it is by far the best I have ever received. The first tablet arrived within 2 working days, well packaged and exactly as described; the subsequent return was handled professionally, with confirmation that the product had been received at their end; the replacement tablet arrived within 24 hours of my additional payment. I also contacted A1CS for support with a WiFi issue and they responded very quickly, suggesting router settings which instantly fixed the problem. I've communicated with them several times on other matters not of direct relevance to this product or review and they have been prompt, polite and helpful, without exception.

Price
There's no need to pass further comment on this - as the list above shows, the A1CS tablet (V1) is the cheapest, has the most reviews and the highest rating. This is true value for money.

OS Upgrades
At first I was concerned that this tablet only runs Android 2.2, potentially making it obsolete already. However, a discussion thread elsewhere on Amazon indicates that A1CS are working on an upgrade to Android 3 and there is also information out there for an (unsupported) root installation of Honeycomb. Personally, I'll stick with 2.2 for now, as it does everything I need it to and Android Market is still predominantly geared towards Android 2.x.

Ease of Operation / Responsiveness
The tablet is quick and responsive, although there is one (avoidable) issue I've experienced here: when I first got the tablet I attempted to use it whilst it was charging and it appeared that the screen wasn't calibrated. I opened the 'Calibration' tool under 'Settings' and after several failed attempts at hitting the cross, resulting in a 'Try Again' message, the tablet locked up and I had to reset it (press and hold the power button for about 5 seconds).

I have since discovered that the calibration is fine, but it is affected by the power cable being connected. However, the battery life is excellent (3.5 hours of video playback, 2 hours of which were via YouTube; 6-8 hours reading ebooks on the pre-installed eReader), so it generally isn't necessary to operate the tablet with the power connected.

The only other lag I've experienced occurs when viewing web pages loaded with YouTube videos - again, the workaround is to use the YouTube app rather than the built-in browser and in fact Dolphin Browser copes better with videos and comes pre-installed.

It took me a few days to find out that the tablet is multi-touch, as I don't use this feature: it does work for zooming in and out of webpages etc. - I don't think it does anything else, but I'm still exploring.

As far as multi-tasking goes, the tablet copes exceptionally well and if it starts to hiccup (which takes some doing), then the pre-installed Advanced Task Killer can sort this out in an instant. This app lists all currently active tasks, which can then be selected and 'killed' - it also gives a good indication of how many apps are running in the background, so you can adjust settings to suit your needs.

Applications / Access to Android Market
The tablet comes with a good range of apps pre-installed (on top of the standard 'system' apps):
  • Dolphin Browser
  • Apk Manager
  • ADSL Dialer
  • Skype
  • Facebook
  • HDMI Setting
  • Ilitek Touch Utility
  • Advanced Task Killer
  • Quickoffice
  • eReader
  • Amazon Kindle
As I'm an author, I've installed a few other ereaders and document editing apps to test formatting. The pre-installed eReader is excellent, although CoolReader is equally good and has a few more features. Likewise, QuickOffice works well for viewing documents created in Microsoft Office, but I also downloaded Doc Converter and Jota Text Editor, so that I could convert MS Word documents to text, then edit them using Jota - for free.

The EasyPrint app, used in conjunction with Google Cloud Printing, means you can also send documents 'over the cloud' to a printer connected to your desktop / laptop computer.

As mentioned in the product information, the tablet only lists free apps in Android Market, but this is mostly an advantage, as it saves unnecessary expense on apps you later decide you don't want / need.

Connectivity / Build Quality
The tablet comes with 2 USB ports, 2 micro SD slots, 1 HDMI slot, stereo minijack (headphones) socket, Ethernet port and power supply socket. It also ships with headphones, power supply and a USB cable. Regarding the USB cable, the product information states that this is "only useful for firmware updates, not for transferring files". However, I installed the USB Mass Storage app, which enables mounting of USB drives and SD card readers, so the USB ports can be used for transfer of files from portable devices.

The speakers aren't fantastic, but the sound quality via headphones is very good and loud enough to hear without annoying other people. The camera is also reasonable for webcam-type usage, but don't expect super-duper hi-res images.

I recommend purchasing the keyboard case, which is sturdy, feels very much like a Mac keyboard (including layout) and puts the A1CS on a par to the Asus Eepad Transformer (which comes out well in the reviews / ratings mentioned above, but costs more than twice as much). However, be aware that the tablet is only held in the case on three sides, so there is a risk of it slipping out, if the one end without a clip is facing downwards - I learnt this the hard way! Fortunately, the build quality of the tablet is pretty good, so it survived a 3 foot drop onto a wooden floor with no damage whatsoever.

Conclusion
I have absolutely no regrets in opting for this tablet. I tried the Motorola Xoom in a local phone shop and the A1CS tablet is a match on speed and responsiveness - indeed it's close behind the Samsung Galaxy S2 and iPad in both regards and is around half the price (or less). With the additional apps I've installed, I can print documents and images, copy files to and from USB, read ebooks in any format and edit documents - perhaps not your requirements, but evidence that you can set the tablet up exactly how you want. On top of this, the video and music players will play almost any format you throw at them and the screen is bright, clear and visible from almost all angles. The additional keyboard case turns this tablet into a netbook and is a further great investment.

Ultimately the greatest strength of this tablet is the support behind it. If A1CS isn't a deliberate acronym for 'A1 Customer Service', then it should be.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

No Dice - Paperback Now Available (plus free fluffy dice!)

No Dice by Debbie McGowan is on sale from today: electronic versions to follow.

Fancy some free fluffy dice?
(or 'fuzzy' dice if you live on the other side of the pond)

To claim your free fluffy dice
(you know you want some)

- Either -

Be one of the first 10 people to purchase a copy of No Dice.

- Or -

Write a short review of No Dice.


In the mean time, here's a little background info about the book.

No Dice started life during NaNoWriMo 2010 and it was my second choice, hastily imagined a week into November, when I was already a good 10,000 words into the 50,000 required to 'win'. Fortunately, the general plot came together quickly, so I was able to churn out a basic outline by the end of the month and claim my 'winners' goodies': needless to say, the book was a long way from finished.

I've posted about anti-NanNoWriMo snobbery before, so won't repeat myself here, other than to say that the excuse to write is vital to getting me started. Until my recent decision to reduce my hours, I was a full time high school teacher, as well as working part time for the Open University on two different courses and building the occasional website on a freelance basis. On top of this I have two teenaged daughters, a husband, two dogs and a house to look after. Fitting in authorship along with everything else is a luxury I can afford in November only, when the ludicrously tight deadline forces me to keep writing; the rest of the year I must stop to plan lessons, cook meals, write reports, walk dogs, analyse results, clean bathrooms, mark assignments, dye daughers' hair, mow grass, mow husband's hair... et cetera ad nauseam (or, in English: and the other things, until I'm sick - quite often literally).

Inspiration
If you'd asked before today where the ideas for the story came from, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell you. However, whilst talking to one of my students about the release today (he's going to star in a No Dice video trailer - if we can pin down a white XR3i), it dawned on me that he was in fact the inspiration for one of the two main characters. Of course Saul Smith (the character) has evolved somewhat since his arrival in the story, taking on his own unique identity - one of the joys of writing fiction is that you get to give birth over and again, but without the labour pains. Then again, self-publishing is a long, hard slog: the proofing and preparation for print can take as long as the writing and editing. Nonetheless, I've given birth twice and self-published twice, so can state with some qualification that the former hurts a lot more.

The other main character is perhaps less directly traceable to a single individual. Ryan Forbes is an average, working class semi-geek with the usual smattering of gaming and techno pursuits defining his existence. He's an amalgam of every geeky teenager I've ever met, thrown into a situation that he finds terrifying, yet it galvanises him into employing his aptitude for logic and problem-solving in something other than hunting down zombies.

As for the plot itself, I can't really say much without risking spoilers, but it will likely be apparent to readers that certain 1980s Hollywood films play a part in there, mashed up with some very basic quantum theory - a deliberate move, because this story is intended to be accessible and fun.

Audience
Being an author and working in a high school can be a dreadful ordeal. I struggle to comprehend how young people (in general) cope with no creative outlet, be that writing, reading, making or listening to music (proper music, that is), painting, photography or something else. It really doesn't matter and I don't think it's being old-fashioned or stuck up to suggest that computer games are not a worthy substitute, even if they do involve creating and managing your own Premier League football team or commanding an elite force of highly trained badger ninjas (that last one has some potential though - © Nige).

And so it came to pass that I wrote a book aimed at the people I work with day-in, day-out. Quite frankly, I have the utmost admiration for educational psychologists and their ability to discern the difference between a real attention deficit disorder and the proverbial couldn't out-think a goldfish attention span of most teenagers. Indeed, reading an entire 199 page novel proved to be almost too much for one such individual I cajoled into reading No Dice, who, by his own admission, spends far too much time playing fast-action video games and never reads, which is a shame, because he has the potential to be an incredible poet. Still, he made it through the entire book, so there's hope for him (and me) yet!

This is not to say that the book is exclusively aimed at the 13-17 demographic: hopefully I've crammed in enough eighties nostalgia to appeal to their parents too.

And on that note, I'll leave you with the first full review - I'd best stock up on fluffy dice, quick!

"Firstly, may I say that at the age of 45, I did not expect to enjoy this book. The fact is, I did, which I find strange, bearing in mind it was written for an age group that is about a third of my own. However, this paradox can be answered quite simply by the way the work was written and the subject matter. Every one of my age will remember someone with an XR3i and those who do not will have undoubtedly seen one screaming up a street nearby. One could say that the Escort was the epitome of the eighties culture.

However, this is not what makes the book work for today's youth. That is down to character formation and involvement of the reader, something I found in spadesful whilst reading this book. Each character was carefully mapped and meticulously formed, giving the impression that the author knew each one personally, which is a rare quality in modern youth literature. It's not unfair to say that "No Dice" also included a very well-crafted history lesson!

One could argue that the use of a car as a "time machine" has been used as a hook before but in this scenario, the lessons learned are harsh and appear real to the reader leaving one with food for thought on many levels.

On a personal note, "No Dice" took me back into my youth. It is well written and is able to work for a variety of readers. For me? Nostalgia holds the key!"

Jason Piggin - Author and Philosopher.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Butterfly, Primacy and Jack - Previews and Latest Additions

I'm unofficially beta testing an Android tablet (it's cheap, due to go on sale in October and all good so far - more on this in the near future), so today's post is a quick update on some of Beaten Track's upcoming / most recent additions.

Coming Soon(ish)
Butterfly - A True Story (working title) by Sarah French (Beaten Track)

'Butterfly', currently in the very early stages of editing, is a raw and honest autobiographical account of the author's experience at the hands of her abusive step-mother and, to a lesser extent, her father.

In the earliest draft, penned at the age of 17, Sarah writes:

"I wrote this book because I want to open society’s eyes to what can go on behind closed doors. I want you to see the effects my abusive childhood had on me, as a child, a teenager and an adult, so that you the reader can look a little closer at a child who seems withdrawn, lonely or afraid.

In my case my abusers were my father and stepmother. I may never know what drove them to act the way they did towards me."

The book's candid narrative is intriguingly dispassionate and as such holds a definite advantage over other accounts, with their tendency towards glamourisation, as if emotive, exaggerated description of events that are truly horrible in their own right is somehow a pre-requisite to the empathy and action of onlookers.

French successfully avoids the trap of sensationalism, instead providing the reader with a genuine and unique insight into her childhood and how this shapes the woman she is today. As a consequence, this is a story with far greater potential than any that has gone before to challenge the multitude of social taboos and misunderstandings that allow child abuse to persist unnoticed and unchallenged.

Most Recent

From Verbitrage:
"Primacy by J. E. Fishman is packed with suspenseful drama, subterfuge, and incredible demonstrations of man's inhumanity to men/women and animals. Yet, it is a shot of adrenaline into the advocacy of animal suffrage. Fishman successfully utilizes techniques of the objective reality of journalism, and the subjective reality of story-telling."

Excusing the pun in advance, but having been bitten by The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, this is a book that I won't be reading myself. However, I should clarify that this is down to my personal preference for a pain-free reading / viewing experience (you won't ever find me watching Marley and Me, for instance), as opposed to any inadequacies on the part of Joel E. Fishman.

Released just over a week ago, Primacy has already reached the point where it would be appropriate to refer to it as 'critically acclaimed'. Without spoilers, the novel follows the work of Liane Vinson, animal researcher, and her quest to return a bonobo to the wild. Variously described by reviewers as provocative, captivating, intelligent and a must for animal lovers, Primacy is a thriller with morals and is Fishman's first novel.

As an added bonus, all purchases of the hardback come with a free ebook (as per Verbitrage policy) and is priced at 13.78 GBP (Amazon UK) / 18.96 USD (Amazon.com).


"A dog (Jack) and his person (The Tall Guy) decide to write a book, mostly about the dog. But don't worry, no dogs die at the end of THIS book! (Unlike some other books about yellow Labs)

Aren't you tired of reading books about vampires? Wouldn't a book about a zombie puppy be more interesting? Yeah, I thought so too. I guess I'll have to work on that for the next book. In the meantime, here's a book about a dog named Jack."

By way of contrast and much more to my liking, Ray Braswell offers up a wholly feel-good biography of his golden labrador, Jack. Also worth a peruse is Jack's blog - dailydoseofjack.blogspot.com, always written from the dog's perspective.

'Jack' is available as a Kindle edition, very competitively priced at 2.14 GBP (Amazon UK) / 2.99 USD (Amazon.com).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Lost and Found

I noticed a student reading a book today, worthy of comment for its unusualness. I asked what he was reading and he held up the cover rather than tell me - it took a moment to decipher, but it was Scar Tissue, the autobiography of the lead singer of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

"Have you ever heard of Nineteen Eighty-four?" he asked, then added by way of clarification, "By George Orwell."

"Yes," I replied, stifling a chuckle. How lovely that new readers believe themselves to be pioneers of literature new and old. I suppose, to share Roland Barthes' perspective, this might be true.

The conversation that followed switched back to discussing recording artists such as the aforementioned band, The Doors and various others who have long been held in high esteem, but my thoughts wandered elsewhere, to Nineteen Eighty-four and other books I have lost over the years.

When I say lost, I mean loaned to friends; the contradiction resides in these being the books I value most, thus they are the ones I want to lend out least, yet wish others to have the opportunity to appreciate them also.

So, Nineteen Eighty-four is missing, presumed loaned. To whom? I do not know, but it was the copy I 'borrowed' from school when I was doing my O' Levels, so it is only right that I should no longer possess it, I suppose. However, its absence reminds me more of its specialness and this intrigues me. If it were still on my bookshelf I wouldn't think of it at all; instead, I recall the hours spent sitting behind the counter of a windswept icecream kiosk in mid-November, clutching at the pages until my fingers turned grey, imagining Winston's world to be a whole lot more pleasing than mine was during those times.

"It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same-everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same- people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world."

It's a terrible shame I no longer have this particular copy of Nineteen Eighty-four in my possession. Buying another just wouldn't be the same and I would more than likely end up loaning it out again, if only to remove the perceived need for clarification on the author in future interludes.

I also 'lost' Nights At The Circus, by Angela Carter (originally published in 1984, strangely enough) - a brilliantly comedic and moving tale of a woman called 'Fevvers', so named for her wings. My choice of lendee on this occasion was a young actor who, now in his forties, persists in his engagement with outrageous fashions. He often fell victim to the inaccurate judgements of others in relation to his uniqueness. I hope this is no longer so, but imagine that this was part of my reasoning for offering him the book in the first place and I like to think that he treasures it.

"Outside the window, there slides past that unimaginable and deserted vastness where night is coming on, the sun declining in ghastly blood-streaked splendour like a public execution across, it would seem, half a continent, where live only bears and shooting stars and the wolves who lap congealing ice from water that holds within it the entire sky. All white with snow as if under dustsheets, as if laid away eternally as soon as brought back from the shop, never to be used or touched. Horrors! And, as on a cyclorama, this unnatural spectacle rolls past at twenty-odd miles an hour in a tidy frame of lace curtains only a little the worse for soot and drapes of a heavy velvet of dark, dusty blue."

Most recently, I 'mislaid' Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand, lent to someone I used to see on a bi-weekly basis, but due to their change of employment, no longer have any contact with. In this instance, the book is too modern and popular to be special in the same way as Orwell or Carter, but it is a good book nonetheless. Russell Brand's style is eloquent, humble and humorous in equal measure, with some truly beautiful prose on occasion, including my favourite passage (not necessarily for its religious imagery):

"God is in the mountains. Impassive, immovable, jagged giants, separating the celestial from the terrestrial with eternal diagonal certainty. As if silently monitoring the beating heart of the creator from the universe's perfect birth. Stood in the thin air and the awe, one inhales God, involuntarily acknowledging that we are but fragments of a whole, a higher thing. The mountains remind me of my place, as a servant to truth and wonder. Yes, God is in the mountains. Perhaps the pulpit too and even in the piety of an atheist's sigh. I don't know; but I feel him in the mountains."

Three books: so different in style and genre and yet they share the same talent for dishing up the ugliest features of humanity with beauty and splendour. This is why I loved them, why I lost them and why I will continue to find them at the forefront of my mind. To lend a book is essentially to offer it as a gift. Will I ever get them back? I can only hope, although given that my gregarious actor friend now lives in Australia, unless Nights At The Circus sprouts some 'Fevvers' of its own, I doubt I will be seeing it again.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

It's All About The Money

It is likely that many of you will appreciate why I only read a newspaper once a week. As an author, educator and parent, I find there is little time left for such frivolities as engaging with current affairs, aside from the fact that most of the affairs are hardly current by the time they hit the paper press. Still, I enjoy ambling through the Saturday edition of The Guardian - a process which can last the entire week on account of the multitude of supplements, intellectually challenging puzzles and the virtually impossible task of simultaneously reading and keeping hold of the thing which, in spite of its reduced broadsheet dimensions, remains one of the least ergonomic objects ever invented.

Nevertheless, this weekend's finger/thumb PSI endurance trial was well worth it for the cover article in the Work supplement, announcing the start of a six month series that will undoubtedly prove of use to many independent writers. The series will see freelance journalist Andrea Wren sharing her progress as she works under the guidance of Glen Allsopp of ViperChill to build a fully monetised blog and, judging by the article, he is more than qualified for the task: he sold his personal development blog at the end of 2010 for 'a five-figure' sum and at the age of 22 "earns more than £10,000 per month from his websites".

There's a definite knack to making money online, which is not what this article is about: I've been online for a long time (since the 1990s) and I still don't know how to utilise its money-making potential without feeling I've either sold out or I'm ripping people off. In terms of the profitability of Beaten Track Publishing, this is very tricky indeed.

What follows instead, is a commentary on some of the things you will / will not see on Beaten Track Publishing and why!

OTT Advertising
Placing advertisements on a blog or website would on first consideration seem a good way of making money, especially if these are presented in such a way that they can be inadvertently clicked upon by the unsuspecting visitor. A more ethical strategy is to make the advertising is obvious, although whilst I type this I am distracted by seizure-inducing animations in the background, where my browser is currently open on thewebmoneyworld.com - a perfect demonstration of how NOT to place advertising on your site:


This is the top, non-sponsored result of a Google search for 'how to make money online'. Compare this to Glen Allsopp's ViperChill:



So where are the adverts? If Glen is making £10,000 per month, it's certainly not from gaudy banners and Google Adsense. Andrea Wren's article also mentions Al Carlton's site CoolestGadgets.com, which he claims earns £10,000... in a bad month. The articles on this blog deal with various gadgets and are therefore adverts in themselves, but there are also others placed around the pages, as can be seen below.


Now, you may well have noticed some advertising on the b10track blog and the Beaten Track website. To stave off accusations of hypocrisy, I'm not implying that advertising is all bad. What I anticipate you see advertised are products and services relevant to our visitors, which is to say that aside from books (our primary product), authors and people who read books are most likely to require self-publishing services, ereaders and so on.

Affiliation
AffiliateSeeking.com has a great, short article detailing the warning signs that might indicate a bad affiliate programme; these include some obvious pointers, such as very high commission rates, no flexibility in link formats and delayed payments, although these are not necessarily reliable indicators.

Amazon and Google Adsense both operate a delay in payment, which is based on accumulating sufficient revenue for the processing of fees to be viable. In both cases, the companies clearly explain this in their terms and conditions. Furthermore, although they offer a variety of link formats, these are still prescribed and it can be tricky getting these to display ads / products relevant to your site, particularly in relation to Google Adsense.

Sadly, the mention of affiliate programmes here will likely result in advertising links to all sorts of dodgy companies in my own Google ads, although it would serve to illustrate the major pitfall of intelligent advertising, i.e. it's not that intelligent!

However, to clarify, Beaten Track uses affiliation with other sites as a means of generating income from the sale of the books we list. This is not an automated process, but comes from lengthy research for recent and upcoming publications in keeping with our ethos (see below). This provides content for the site and means authors can list their publications for free.

Shameless Self-Marketing
Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane is released on 8th September. It's his first novel and you can read the opening chapter here: Children of Paranoia Excerpt.

How do I know this? In a move that some have construed as spamming Google+, Trevor has shared links to reviews on at least a daily basis over the past week. Now, this could go one of two ways: there are countless TV programmes I've vowed never to watch because of 'death by trailer' - I've almost been put off watching new episodes of series that I like for the same reason and doubt I'm alone in my reaction to this over-saturation. Conversely, I'm telling you about Children of Paranoia, so the viral effect is in full force here. Self-marketing is vital to the success of all authors, even moreso for those publishing independently.

But what of artistic integrity? I dare to pose this question with the knowledge that Beaten Track exists as a means to support my own writing, but in developing and adding to the website, I'm constantly engaged in a dialogue between Deb and Diablo himself. The socialist in me won't allow my own publications to take pride of place on the site. Nor can I really justify listing bestsellers from large publishing houses and thereby endorse what is essentially legalised theft and embezzlement from authors. Besides, they don't need Beaten Track any more than it needs them.

Without dawdling too long atop my independent publishing soap box, it would seem pertinent here to further dispel the myth of 'vanity publishing', because it continues to smite the work of the independent author. Trevor Shane isn't even publishing independently (Children of Paranoia is published by Dutton Adult, part of the Penguin Group), but I envisage that he would still be going at it 'hammer and tongs' if he was. He evidently believes in his novel. We should all value our own work, which does reek of egotism and self-conceit, but the notion of vanity publishing is a nonsense invented to enslave us all. We might as well call it 'my precious' and be done with it.

Undoubtedly there is some good fan fiction out there, but this is more in line with what we perceive as vanity publishing - writers who usurp the plots and characters of others for their own ends. A few years ago, the majority of electronic, self-published work was of this kind.

Furthermore, we might consider the well-to-do, Reader's Digest subscriber who comes upon the realisation that they too are capable of creating disposable fiction and because they are well-to-do, have the time and the money to send the dreadful stuff out into the public domain. This is less vanity and more 'butterfly cake' publishing, in that they churn out short stories in much the same fashion as they bake for the Women's Institute, knowing there will always be someone who appreciates an extravagantly iced fairy cake.

And so to Beaten Track: to some extent it is built on the same principles as those of the collective that published Champagne. My experiences of working with highblue highlighted how difficult it is to balance vanity, integrity and economics (I recall a number of debates with highblue's founder regarding publishing popular fiction vs selling out), although some of the problems encountered were time-specific. Champagne was published in 2004 - long enough ago for ads on websites to be of the poorly targetted banner exchange variety, when good affiliate schemes were few and far between and well before the advent of inexpensive, low-run publishing, let alone the extensive electronic formats currently available.

For these and other reasons, highblue is no more, but I found an imprint of the homepage on the Way Back Machine:


This ethos is not at odds with making money, but, as has been seen over and again, timing is key to online success. We now have the knowledge and technology to earn a living from independent publishing. Beaten Track Publishing will always be a work in progress, striving for new ways to appropriate revenue; it is hoped that the time is right for doing so without compromise.