Thursday, 28 December 2017

Indie publishing, marketing and aftercare

Before I go any further...I'm NOT an expert in marketing. In fact, like most authors, I kind of hate marketing, but I've now spent five and a half years working with other authors to get their books 'out there' as well as publishing my own books, and I have a few observations I think are worth sharing.

Note: these are my observations and reflections, not facts. Mainly, I'm going to talk about aftercare for your book: what happens after it's released.

What works?
Isn't that the million-dollar question? Who knows? There are quite a few strategies that might work, but there's also a certain amount of serendipity involved. Hitting the market with the right release at the right time...having an eye-catching cover (good or bad) and a great blurb...catching the interest of a chatty readership who will spread the away the first book in a series, video trailers...paying a PR company...

It all works - sometimes. It might work once and never again, and once might actually be enough to gain traction. But it might not work at all.

The bottom line is, I don't know what will work for you. There are hundreds of blog posts (and courses, and experts who'll charge you money for their knowledge) out there with suggestions for authors on how to get their books selling. My suggestion: try anything. Try everything you can afford. Even if you only try it once and decide it's not worth the bother or you hate it so much you'd rather give up writing than do it again, if you want to sell books, you lose nothing by giving it a go.

What I can tell you is what doesn't work, and this is a repeating pattern I've seen in the way authors go about their work. However, I'll frame it as what you should do.

The marketing happens before and after release
It's not entirely our fault that we neglect the aftercare of our books. The ebook market has borrowed from the music industry, where everything is a build-up to release day and trying to get the single into a high chart position. And, like the music industry, if our book doesn't chart highly (on Amazon), we assume we've missed our chance.

We need to remember that's only our book's first chance. So, yes, do the pre-release blitz - cover reveals, excerpts, blog tours, giveaways, spamming social networks (meaningfully - add some variety to your posts), but remember it's only step one.

Be a market trader
Then, on release day, switch to the market trader model. You've got a product to sell, right there in your (virtual) hand, and irrespective of how many people caught your exhausting pre-release marketing, there are still millions of potential readers who know nothing about you or your book.

Interact online and offline
Social networks move very quickly, and algorithms work against us. If you're tech savvy, you can probably work around these to a certain extent. If you're rich, you can buy space and prominence. But you don't need money to plug your book. You do need some time, though, and perseverance.

Share excerpts. Interview characters on your blog or podcast. Don't have those? Set them up! Talk about your book until people flee when they see you coming. Go into bookshops, talk to your local paper, radio station - anything you do is better than doing what we authors usually do, which is dropping that book like a hot spud on release day and moving on to the next one.

Love your readers
Interact with readers - positively, professionally. Reply to emails from fans. Have a friendly online persona.

(But don't engage with those who leave reviews you don't like, or bad-mouth them in 'public'.)

One of the most successful ways to sell is by word of mouth. Fans are friends, and food.

In summary:
Giving your book good aftercare and a varied diet, in my experience, increases sales.

But what if...?
However, if your book still isn't selling, you've got a few choices ahead of you.

Keep plugging away
I can't say how long is a decent time to do this before it's 'flogging a dead horse', but it can be measured in months, minimum. While social networks move at lightning speed, the users of said networks don't, and there are also other factors involved in how people use them.

Know your readership and where to find them
I check Twitter perhaps four days out of seven, LinkedIn once a month, Instagram hardly ever and I've never even logged in to WhatsApp. I do visit Facebook and Goodreads frequently, though. Meanwhile, my daughter never visits Goodreads, Twitter or LinkedIn, but she's constantly on Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. My mum uses Facebook and nothing else. My husband is neurologically wired to Facebook (or so it seems) and watches a lot of YouTube videos.

I'm not suggesting my family reflects the typical use of the various networks by different ages and genders, but there are differences, and these are worth considering while you're plugging away. Who is your target readership? Which networks do they use and when? It's worth doing a bit of research so you can more accurately target your marketing.

(Don't) Give up
There are some authors who do give up after book one (or even further down the line), and it's not a wrong decision if it's right for you. I don't write for money, so failing to sell will never lead me to giving up, but some authors do only write in the hope of making money out of it.

To be absolutely brutal about this, the publishing market is so saturated, the chance of making even a living out of writing is slim at best. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the odds are, you won't, and even if you do hit a 'bestseller' with one release, you're still playing the market for each subsequent release.

Start over with each new book
If your book does chart well on release day, great. But don't sit back and expect it to continue. You need to keep those sales coming in, and not just for this book.

As you write more and add to your catalogue, you'll become a juggler, trying to keep all of the balls in the air. Each new book requires the same attention - before and after release - but take care not to drop the book before it.

This is where back matter...matters. Make sure your readers can find your other work via links at the end of your book. Keep your list of publications current on your website/blog. It needs to be really easy for readers to find you and your books, because you are one of millions of stars in the sky. You need to be the brightest.

Move on
Work on your next book, satisfied you have, at the very least, a back catalogue of one darned good book, because you're going to do this all over again, and again.

Final thoughts...
I'm not a bestseller. I have been a bestseller, and I'm still selling books because of that one book that happened to catch the market at the right time. It can be disheartening, both looking at my own sales and seeing other authors question if it's worth continuing. That's a decision each of us has to weigh up for ourselves. Part of that process involves being honest about whether we really gave it our best shot.

About the author
Debbie McGowan is an award-winning author of contemporary fiction that celebrates life, love and relationships in all their diversity. Since the publication in 2004 of her debut novel, Champagne - based on a stage show co-written and co-produced with her husband - she has published a further forty-plus works (novels, short stories and novellas). She is the author of two ongoing series: Hiding Behind The Couch (a literary 'soap opera' centring on the lives of nine long-term friends) and Checking Him Out (LGBTQ romance). Debbie has been a finalist in both the Rainbow Awards and the Bisexual Book Awards, and in 2016, she won the Lambda Literary Award (Lammy) for her novel, When Skies Have Fallen: a British historical romance spanning twenty-three years, from the end of WWII to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Through her independent publishing company, Debbie gives voice to other authors whose work would be deemed unprofitable by mainstream publishing houses.

Friday, 15 December 2017

New Release: A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat by Roe Horvat

Author: Roe Horvat
Language: English
Published: 15th December, 2017
Length: 63,000 words (approx).
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-182-8
eBook: 978-1-78645-183-5
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Health, Family and Lifestyle, Contemporary Fiction

Available on Kindle Unlimited

Simon had always expected love to feel different than this. Whether it was his Catholic upbringing or the poetry he'd read - Simon had thought that true love would be uplifting, fulfilling, that it would give a meaning to his loitering, and add joy to his leisure. But not this kind of love. This love was a flesh-eating monster, sharp-clawed and evil-eyed, ravishing his mind with medieval cruelty.

Dr Simon Mráz is a respected specialist and lecturer at the Charles University in Prague. He is a serious man, responsible. His students call him The Cruel Doctor Frost not because he's unkind, but because of his unwavering, ice-cold composure. As a psychiatrist, he values sanity. And sanity can be found in work, restraint, and self-control.

Not many know of that one time in the past when The Cruel Doctor Frost lost his cool. His ill-advised, secret affair with a student left Simon deeply wounded. Since that day, every minute of Simon's life has been a struggle to remain sane, functioning. He's managed so far - as long as he is needed, as long as his work makes a difference, Simon can scrape together enough strength to get up in the morning and run off the nightmares. But when his friends begin drifting away, his beloved protégé becomes independent, and the man who bereaved Simon of his precious sanity might return... Simon's mind and body stop responding to his impressive willpower.


Editor's Review:
Where does one escape to when the danger is in one's own head? In Simon's case (as for many of us), it's to his work. He's existing, functioning, far from living, and the effect is a 'wordscape' that is perfectly illustrated by the colours of the cover. Simon's world for the most part is shades of grey. The colour...well, we know from the very first chapter where, or indeed, with whom the colour resides.

This novel is dark, and I don't mean full of the gruesome and grisly. It's way cleverer than that - subtler, more real, and for those reasons all the more...scary?

That's not quite the word for it, because we think of 'scary' in relation to books as meaning horror and the supernatural - the stuff that is most definitely of fiction. A Love Song... is far away from those kinds of stories. It's a realist, character-driven narrative, and it stays true to that right through to the very last page, which is to say it has a 'happy' ending, but there are no instant magical fixes here. However, you can trust the author to bring you safely to the other side.



About the Author:
Queer fiction author Roe Horvat was born in the post-communist wasteland of former Czechoslovakia. Equipped with a dark sense of sarcasm, Roe traveled Europe and finally settled in Sweden. They love Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, and daiquiri, with equal passion. When not hiding in the studio doing graphics, Roe can be found trolling cafés in Gothenburg, writing, and people-watching.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

New Release: Never Too Late #anthology #lgbtqia

Author: Caraway Carter, Ofelia Gränd, Hans M Hirschi, Laura Susan Johnson, A.M. Leibowitz, Debbie McGowan, Phetra H. Novak, J P Walker, Alexis Woods Cover Artist: Roe Horvat
Language: English
Published:7th December, 2017
Length: 131,000 words (approx.)
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-192-7
ePub: 978-1-78645-193-4
ASIN: B077QDWTL5Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, History, Romance and Relationships, Political, Women's Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Family and Friendship

Never Too Late is a collection of nine stories featuring characters over the age of fifty - stories of travel, finding your purpose, of friendships past and present, and of love. Never Too Late brings you to a world where gender sees no borders, where the only way you're identified is by the goodness of your heart.

Trapped by Ofelia Gränd
Ashes and Alms by A.M. Leibowitz
The Palette - A Lifetime by Caraway Carter
Clara by Hans M Hirschi
To Be Sure by Debbie McGowan
Nectar by Laura Susan Johnson
Moving by J P Walker
Cue The Music by Alexis Woods
Ocean of Tears by Phetra H. Novak

Editor's Review:
Before I review each of the stories, I need to say something that I've said many times before. I love my job. I get to work with incredibly talented people who write the kinds of stories I love to read. On this occasion, it's an entire set of stories, all about people aged 50 and over. At 48, I'm nearly there, and I'll be honest; I had some reservations, wondering if we were going to deliver a set of stories bemoaning old age. Needless worry.

This is an exceptional collection of stories, if I do say so myself. They are diverse - in style and in the colours of the LGBTQIA rainbow they each choose to explore. There are poignant moments of sadness and/or horror; there are moments of humour - plenty more of those, I think; there are the tender/passionate moments that readers of romance appreciate; there are moments of reflection - for both us and the characters. Above all, there is much hope and happiness, and every story here ends not necessarily a 'happily ever after' but on a positive note.

It's never too late to make amends, fall in love, rekindle lost friendship, reunite with lovers, family or friends. I'll hand over to fabulous authors at Beaten Track to show you how.

Trapped by Ofelia Gränd
Charlie Wilkins had everything he wanted - a husband, a daughter, a house that was his home. He still has his husband, but William has forgotten who he is. He still has his daughter, but the roles have  switched, and she is now the one taking care of them.

There is only one thing Charlie wants, and that is to spend the rest of his days with William by his side. But William is living in a nursing home, and Charlie is living...somewhere. Ann says she will fix it; she'll make sure they'll get to live together again. Charlie hopes she will before William either escapes or figures out Charlie has left him in someone else's care.

* * * * *

Before I became a teacher (which was before I became a publisher), I worked as a carer - for fifteen years - caring for older people. My first job (well, second - the first one I got sacked from after only a couple of weeks for being late because Queen over-ran on Live Aid) was probably the most challenging of all, because I worked with quite a few old guys like William - one of the three main characters in Trapped.

There was one chap in particular whose wife came to visit every day even though most days he didn't know who she was. Nor did he recognise his carers, but then he'd have these moments of clarity, within which he shared what his life had been like before his dementia. He changed my attitude forever, which was why I stayed in healthcare for such a long time. I loved it; it was hard but so worthwhile. Older people have so much to teach us.

But, alas, when you reach the top of the career ladder and you're still earning minimum wage...I could earn more teaching, and that's the only reason I changed career.

Anyway, that's not really a review of Ofelia Gränd's story, or it is in a round-about way. Trapped is one of those sad-happy/happy-sad stories - I can't quite figure out whether it's tragic or glorious, but in the end I let (completely within my control, honest) a happy tear or two escape for this beautiful, respectful depiction of a very different and incredibly real relationship between two (fairly grouchy) older men.

Ashes & Alms by A.M. Leibowitz
In her teens, Jo spent a summer as a missionary in Chicago. After forty years, two divorces, and a daughter who won't speak to her, a postcard arrives in the mail. Now Jo must decide if she wants to attend a reunion. Going means seeing the woman she once loved and finding out if all they had was one summer or if there's a chance to start over. It also means facing the other women on her team. Maybe it's time for Jo to reconcile all her broken relationships.

* * * * *

Well, I may as well continue with the 'been there, done that' theme. I used to be 'churchified', but for various reasons, I was pushed out of the church. A year or so ago, there was a reunion of sorts, which I didn't attend's complicated. Short, simple version: many church people are judgemental hypocrites, and while I'm no saint, I don't need their judgy fingers wagging at me.

But then there are the friendships I lost, and I miss being a part of something. I miss going to church (except on damp, miserable Sunday mornings), but like Jo in Ashes & Alms, I'm torn between facing the friends that became adversaries and knowing I'm just fine - maybe better - leaving all of that far behind me.

There were a lot of parallels between my life and Jo's, and I sense other readers with very different life experiences will also find this - not just with Ashes & Alms, but with any of A.M. Leibowitz's stories. The characters are very real and face the same challenges - the little niggles and the epic traumas - we all face.

What I especially enjoyed were the tense moments later in the story, all the show and facade and the waiting. It could've gone either way, and I read tight-lipped with a tense, slightly hysterical giggle in the back of my throat. And...that's all I'm saying or I'll spoil the story.

The Palette by Caraway Carter
As celebrated artist James Brash finally ties the knot, he looks back on his and husband Roy's fifty-year relationship, as told through The Palette - a rainbow-themed collection of James's art.

OK, I can't do the 'once upon a time, I was an artist' because I suck, epically, at painting, drawing, sketching, pottery...any and all of those things involving hand-to-eye creative coordination. I ain't got it.

* * * * *

I've realised now, having read quite a few of Caraway Carter's stories, that he writes in a kind of tableau form, so 'the palette' is the perfect medium for his storytelling. Each scene in the story is intense with deep, rich tones - a vivid retelling of a significant event that fades and blends before it gives way to the next.

James - the artist at the centre of this story - is honest and emotionally open (I imagine the wine played its part), emotionally indulgent at times (potentially also the wine, but he's an artist, so...goes with the territory, perhaps), and the author does well in keeping the balance between the retrospective inspiration for James's work and the present moment in the story. This all leads to a lovely conclusion that more than makes up for the tragedy James and Roy endured in the past.

Clara by Hans M Hirschi
This is a short story about Clara - best be described as "a Clara" - who one day discovers a tall, elegantly dressed, and thus completely misplaced mystery woman in the local cemetery, standing over a grave that is never visited by anyone. Clara knows because the son of the couple buried there was Clara's best and only friend in childhood.

Will curiosity get the better of Clara that day?

* * * * *

The blurb is spot on - Clara is best be described as 'a Clara' - I have no idea which pronoun to use because Clara is truly non-binary in all respects. I've never found gender categories much use, so that's fine by me, although it's tough to break free of the he/she programming, even for an enby like me.

Hans Hirschi has written a story that is entertaining and touching, yes, but it's also an excellent education in what being genderqueer/non-binary is like for Clara and others. It's a story I'll be recommending to anyone who tells me they don't understand gender beyond male/female. Well, I'll be recommending it to everyone; it goes without saying.

What I also love is that this story - as with others in Never Too Late - illustrates beautifully the different kinds of 'happy ending' that happen later in life, when happiness and success are measured purely by their quality in the moments we're given.

To Be Sure by Debbie McGowan
Saorla Tierney's sons are conspiring against her, and at their age, they should know better. After all, she's nearly seventy-one herself, and, quite frankly, whether she still 'has needs' is none of their business.

OK, so, maybe she was a bit harsh with Sean when all he did was ask if she and Aileen wanted a double hotel room. And of course she feels bad for biting Finn's head off when he was only having a wee joke.

Between her grandson's unconventional baptism and the decades-long feud between her sons, even with Aileen at her side it's not as easy a decision as they seem to think. Or maybe it is. Saorla doesn't know anymore, and until she's sure...

To Be Sure is a stand-alone novella-length character special in the Hiding Behind The Couch series. 

* * * * *

I can't review this one, because it's mine. :) I had fun writing it, though.

Nectar by Laura Susan Johnson
Nectar tells of the atrocities of the Armenian genocide through the story of one young woman's lifetime - the family she lost, the love she found, and her determination to survive.

* * * * *

There is so much I admire about Laura Susan Johnson's writing. She is what I think of as a 'real writer' who doesn't shy away from the hard stuff, and she really works at her craft. I know, from being her editor, that every word is carefully considered, every sentence worked and reworked until it is just right. I love her stories for that, even if at times they cut me to the core.

Nectar is a story of survival and resilience. The narrator - Nedgar - is so brave and strong. The depiction of what she endured and witnessed isn't graphic, but it's enough to understand the horrors of the Armenian genocide - something I knew nothing about prior to reading this story. Many of us won't, because history forgets, moves on, gets subsumed under further atrocities.

It makes this an important story - an opportunity to learn so that one day we can stop saying 'we must never let this happen again'. Nectar is also a beautifully written story - literary - and should be read for that reason too, with the forewarning that it deals with events some (most) readers will find difficult.

Moving by J P Walker
How would you react if your first great love died? Would you get lost in the past? Or would you embrace your present and future?

When Maggie Fairway finds out Jane - her first great love - has passed away, she quickly becomes caught up in memories of their short yet passionate time together and loses sight of the present - the wonderful life she shares with her wife Jo and their children.

Can Maggie let go of the past before it irrevocably damages their relationship?

* * * * *

Poor Maggie. When faced with the news that someone who was important to us has passed away, particularly when our time with them didn't end well, it's easy to get caught up in reminiscing. For Maggie, it's the loss of her first love, which sparks memories of their incredibly passionate relationship.

I must admit I didn't really like Jane. She was a bit too bolshy for me, but I could see how Maggie fell for her, and how she falls for her again in her grief. First love is profound, perhaps because it happens for most of us when we're relatively young, and we only ever move away from it. It's still always there. To see Maggie trying to recapture the excitement and's devastating, because she's acting on her loss and in so doing risks losing more - losing everything.

The intimate scenes are perfect explorations of the two different relationships, and I can't really say more than that without giving it all away, but there's enough in here to steam up your varifocals. ;)

Cue The Music by Alexis Woods
Every relationship has had it at some point. The singular argument that escalates, that lingers. More often than not, the couple finds their way back to status quo. But what happens when they don't? What happens when one gives up?

After months of trying to resolve their issues, Ty loses hope. He leaves, with only his music to keep him company. Until one day, he feels someone watching him intently from the bar. Maybe, just maybe, Ty won't end up alone after all.

Cue the Music is a stand-alone short story in the Southern Jersey Shores series.

* * * * *

I've got a real soft spot for series where the main characters from previous stories crop up in passing - I go completely Buddy from Elf - 'I know him!' This happens very naturally in the Southern Jersey Shores series (of which Cue the Music is #5), as if this is a gang of guys I see whenever I drink in a particular bar. It's very welcoming, comforting even.

I also have a soft spot for musicians. :) I love the way the music is woven into this story - I imagine we all have songs that are significant to our relationship, the meaning of which can change drastically when things go awry. Including YouTube links to the songs is an excellent touch, like scratch 'n' sniff except it's read 'n' listen - for that full immersion experience.

There are some intense moments in this story, mixed with some dry humour, and while it's a short story (the shortest in the series, I think), it feels complete - not quite a happy-ever-after, but hopefully on the way to one. Until I meet these guys again in #6 and beyond (...) I'm satisfied they'll do OK.

Ocean of Tears by Phetra H. Novak
Karl Meeke - the talented guitarist of Manchester's own pride and joy, Ocean of Tears - is depressed. It's not a word he would usually use for himself, but lately, he's feeling worse. A lot worse. Over the past few months, the music that has been a constant sound inside of him hasn't just grown quieter; it's fallen silent. The love of his life has abandoned him, and at the prime age of fifty-three, he feels like it's all downhill from here. That is, until he meets the young and vibrant Noa.

Noa is attending the Northern School of Ballet in Manchester; his dream is to become a ballerino for the London Royal Ballet. Noa dances into Karl's life from nowhere, and even when Karl shows no interest, Noa will not let him go. Instead, he finds a way to nestle into that lonely slot in Karl's heart, where music once lived, and makes a home there.

Only when things start to change, for the better, does Karl realise what it all means, and by then, he's so far into the deep end he has no choice but to start swimming.

* * * * *

It's not a spoiler if it's in the blurb, so I can say that I've never laughed so much reading a story about someone dealing with depression. Oh, I'm not heartless. In fact, I empathise with Karl a great deal. The music - his life blood - is silent, and he has an epic case of 'can't be arsed'. Which is, of course, Noa's cue to arrive on the scene.

In short, this is not some bleak tour of misery and dreary middle age. It's not about Karl reliving his youth through a relationship with a younger man. Karl knows who he is and accepts it, even if it takes him a while to work through what I know are real concerns for the older partners in relationships with a significant age difference.

Noa, with his relentless cheeriness, is exactly the person for Karl, I have no doubt, although he'd drive me nuts. And Karl's bandmates are awesome - their banter had me in stitches and also left me with a warm feeling of reassurance that if Karl has another bad do of it, he's got lots of great people around to support him.

Friday, 1 December 2017

New Release: Nobody's Butterfly by Claire Davis and Al Stewart

Title: Nobody's Butterfly
Author: Claire Davis and Al Stewart
Cover Artist: Amy Spector
Language: English
Published:1st December, 2017
Length: 20,000 words (approx.)
ISBN: 978-1-78645-191-0
Category: Fiction
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Holidays and Celebrations

Cobweb ghosts are inconvenient - especially grumpy ones with bad breath. Don't they know silence is golden?

Johnny Strong is the expert; he hasn't spoken in two years. Not one word to anyone except the ghost. The main purpose of life is to avoid people and being noticed. Friends? He doesn't need them; and certainly nobody wants him despite what the ghost says.

Until a new boy appears - Finn Lyons, teenage wizard. He eats frogs, concocts potions, and is always hungry. Not only does Finn stand up for Johnny; he actively seeks his company and soon becomes part of life.

First love; family and words; a heady mix to go in the potion but how will it all turn out?

Hubble bubble; Johnny Strong's in trouble! Silence is not always golden in this sweet, zany story of the purest magic at Christmas.

Editor's Review:
I've rewritten this review twice already - far many more times than that in my head. I think this happens when something is important to you. Survival mode kicks in and you think...I really shouldn't share this with the rest of the world. It's a bit like when cats bury their poop - not to hide it from predators, but so they don't challenge more dominant cats.

I'm not going to share the personal reasons why Nobody's Butterfly is important; what I will say is what other readers have said: I wish there had been stories like this when I was an adolescent. I'll also admit that I cried many tears as I edited, and when I went back and read it again. And I'll read it again.

My tears were not because the story is sad or 'angsty'. I despise the use of the word 'angst' in relation to young adults. It makes their problems sound petty and irrelevant when they're not, especially for young adults like Johnny and Finn - the central characters in Nobody's Butterfly. In England alone, there are 17,000 young people like Johnny and Finn. I can't even comprehend that figure.

I'd say my tears were 50% desperation (Johnny's - I felt all of it) and 50% relief that something good came out of it. That's the wonder of fiction - the possibility of a happy ending, not only in the story we're reading - Nobody's Butterfly has a wonderful conclusion - but that we can make those happy endings happen for real. And we can.

We still need more stories written for young adults - really for young adults. It's not about the age of the characters, nor the omission of explicit content. It's about power and empowerment. Young adult fiction needs to empower young adults and portray the world through their eyes. It takes a great deal of skill to do that as an adult author, no matter that we were all young adults once.

Claire Davis and Al Stewart have those skills by the bucket load. Nobody's Butterfly delves into some of the uglier things young people have to deal with, most of which come from adults exercising their power over adolescents and children. That's the way society is set up - those over the age of 18 are automatically responsible for those under the age of 18, and a lot of adults confuse responsibility with power. The trouble is, how do we make them understand?

Putting power in young people's hands means not turning a blind eye or assuming we understand, not imposing our own agenda. It's hard, especially for anyone working with young people. Targets, evidence, policies, procedures...the paperwork is worse than pointless; it's counterproductive because it stops us doing our job - to teach, to care. To listen.

I can't put into words how much I love this story - for its magic, its wonderful fuzzy happy Christmas-ness, and for how brilliantly it illustrates what can happen when a young adult speaks up and for once someone takes notice. Our responsibility as adults is not always to fix problems, but to stand by, just in case, while young adults fix those problems for themselves. That's empowerment.

Nobody's Butterfly is a novella by Claire Davis and Al Stewart, released 1st December, 2017.

Monday, 30 October 2017




Friday, 27 October 2017

New Release: PS by Caraway Carter

Title: PS
Author: Caraway Carter
Language: English
Published: 26th October, 2017
Length: 39,500 words (142 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback: 978 1 78645 166 8
eBook: 978 1 78645 167 5
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Adult, Literary, Pure Romance - M/M

Looking back, it was kind of crazy to put a down payment on a fallen-down train depot I'd never actually seen, in a state I'd never actually been to, and use it to build a life with a guy I'd never actually met, but love makes people do crazy things. If you've ever been in love, you know what I mean.

But before the plane had landed, I found out that Sam - the guy I'd met online and had been talking to for four years - wasn't really Sam. He wasn't even a guy.

I already own the little train depot, and I can't go back to my old life. And Fairville is such a lovely welcoming town. Did I mention James? He's made sure that I've had a really warm welcome.

All I want is to build a great little bookstore, and have a relationship based on humor, honesty, and hardbacks. I see some tough choices ahead of me.

Or maybe I don't have to choose...

Editor's Review:
The first ever romance book I read was about a young woman (aged 16) who exaggerated her age to her cowboy pen pal so she seemed older and more sophisticated than she was. I was about 14 when I read it, and I don't recall much beyond her best friend giving her a makeover so she looked older in the photo she sent him. He sent a photo back, and what a dashingly handsome, rugged young man he...wasn't!

Of course, this was fiction and written in the 1980s, but only a couple of weeks ago, I read a true story of a woman who 'dated' a man online for two years before he admitted he'd lied to her all along and he wasn't the handsome young thing he'd claimed to be.

It's easy to assume we wouldn't fall for this kind of scam, and in many instances there's no real harm done. Yet I know, personally, people who've formed enduring emotional attachments to someone online - even paid money to them to help with medical expenses, cried along with them about loss of friends in terribly tragic circumstances - all of it complete and utter fabrication.

Thus, when it came to Caraway Carter's most recent novella, PS, I didn't have to suspend belief as Gus - our intrepid MC - tells us how he's bought a train depot in Vermont, where he thinks he's setting up home with this guy Sam, whom he met and dated online for four years, only for poor Gus to find he's been catphished. Gus is a gullible, naïve, sweet guy, and not necessarily because he fell for Sam's BS. He is one of those genuinely lovely people, and while he's a grown man with a fairly decent business head on his shoulders, he's still the sort of person I want to take under my wing, if only to make sure someone like Sam doesn't come along and do it to him all over again.

For those reasons, Fairville, Vermont - which is a bit like a cross between Stepford and Whoville - and its incredibly altruistic and quirky townsfolk is pretty much the perfect place for Gus to end up. I must admit, I did have some trouble giving the locals the benefit of the doubt - Kelly in particular. For as much as I want to believe in the goodness of humankind, some people just aren't nice, and I expected Fairville to have its fair share of those types. That's my cynicism, though, not a fault with the story.

So, there's Gus, the new guy in the community, and a dilapidated train depot, and there's James, who is...magnificent, if not a little confusing at times. I think it's intentional, for the most part; I don't want to give too much of his back story away, but there are plenty of reasons for him to be the way he is. He and Gus are very natural together, and their relationship, which escalates quite quickly time-wise, still manages to feel slow and steady.

Lastly, I must come back to the fine folk of Fairville. I loved being along for the journey with Gus as he gets to know a bit about everyone, and the characterisation throughout the story is flawless, if maybe a little biased by being from Gus's perspective - my judgements didn't always match up to his. When I make my American road trip, I'll be pining for Fairville, imagining spending a night or two at the DDI and visiting the train depot for a coffee and a book...

I'll settle for a sequel.

About the Author:
Caraway Carter has worn numerous hats. He's been a furniture salesman, a dresser, a costumer, an actor/waiter, a rabble rouser, a poet, and most recently a writer. He loves words and stringing them together, he loves sex and sexy men, and he writes relationship fiction that reminds you - it's never too late for love. And he has lived his tagline! He married his husband on Halloween, at the age of forty-nine, and they are the loving parents of an adorable cat named Molly.

Website: Caraway Seeds

Thursday, 26 October 2017

New Release: Disease by Hans M Hirschi

Title: Disease
Author: Hans M Hirschi
Language: English
Published: 26th October, 2017
Length: 59,000 words (224 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-161-3
eBook: 978-1-78645-162-0
ASIN: B074G3XH93
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Contemporary Fiction

When journalist Hunter MacIntyre is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, he realizes that his life is about to change, not to mention that he's been handed a certain death sentence.

Alzheimer's is a disease affecting the patient's loved ones as much, if not more, than the patient themselves. In Hunter's case, that's his partner Ethan and their five-year-old daughter Amy. How will they react to, and deal with, Hunter's changing behavior, his memory lapses, and the consequences for their everyday lives?

Disease is a story of Alzheimer's, seen through the eyes of one affected family.

Editor's Review:
This is my editor's review of Disease - a novel by Hans M Hirschi, released today: 26th October, 2017. I'm stating that now, in case what follows doesn't read as a review. Indeed, it is a personal account - my qualifications, if you will - for recommending this novel to everyone, including those involved in the care and support of people with terminal prognoses and their families. What we say and do are often not what we think and feel behind the facade of survival. Note: this novel may cut too close to the bone for patients and families themselves, although perhaps there is some solace to be had from shared experience.

Disease is a truly brilliant novel, and an important one.

I doubt I'm the only person who frets from time to time (more often as I get older) about receiving a terminal prognosis. There are so many potential candidates, and some have already come dangerously close to my life and the lives of those I hold dear. I've lost friends and family; I've waited for the all-clear.

Even without those personal experiences, it's safe to say campaigns to raise awareness of cancer, dementia, heart disease, the danger of strokes etc. have been effective in giving these conditions a higher profile. Sometimes they feed our fear by shoving our mortality in our faces, but mostly they offer hope, in the form of advice on reducing risk, or telling us about the clever people engaged in the search for cures, or of those gifted with the emotional strength to do so who offer compassionate, dignified end-of-life care.

Crucial as all of that is, unless you've been close to it, it's distant and impersonal.

There was a conversation at some point last year, after Nige received his cancer diagnosis. It's vague, only half committed to memory. I don't recall the when or the how, but I do remember him snapping at me, "I'm the one who's got cancer." Whatever I'd said was about my struggle to cope, which was the truth. Who do you turn to for support when the one person who supports you, always and unconditionally, is incapable of doing so? Sure, there are support networks - formal and informal - but that is not who you want, and the petulant child inside stamps its feet and shrieks at the injustice.

I recall seeing an image (no idea where - I read a lot) of concentric circles, with the patient at the centre, immediate family in the next circle, extended family and friends in the next, and so on, with each circle representing greater emotional distance from the patient. The rule is, wherever you fall in the circle, you can only seek the support from those further out than you are.

Needless to say, I didn't mention my own woes to Nige again until after the surgeon gave him the all-clear. Never mind that it was the second time he'd put me through the wringer (his recollection of the first - a dissecting aortic aneurysm - is scant, to say the least). I realise this reads as if I'm blaming him...because I am. Or I do sometimes. I know, on a rational level, it's beyond his control, but rationality comes a poor second to the fear, grief and pain of losing - or believing you are going to lose - someone you love.

It's about the loss of trust as much as anything; you trusted them to love you and not hurt you, to be there at your side, offering strength and support, and the time when you both need it the most, neither of you is capable of offering it. There's a whole lot of acting goes on, and it's Oscar-worthy, but you know each other far too well to fall for it.
He was so upset. He tried to cover it up for me, tried hard not to let me feel just how devastated he is by this latest development. Because it is, in a way, a step toward the end of our relationship, the end of our marriage, our family, a step toward death.
~ Hans M Hirschi: Disease
It is for books like Disease that I do what I do: for the stories that must be told; the voices that need to be heard. True, Disease is a work of fiction, but it is realist fiction grounded in lived experience - a beautiful story with a hopeful ending and an insight for professionals engaged in palliative care and those in the outermost circles.

I'll leave you with Hans' own words:
Hunter’s journey is based on my own experiences with loved ones and reading books about Alzheimer’s. I always felt there was something missing from those tales: the voice of the affected. While fiction, I hope to have given those who are affected by the disease the most, a voice.

About the Author:
Photo: John O’Leary
Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories since childhood. As an adult, the demands of corporate life put an end to his fiction for more than twenty years. A global executive in training, he has traveled the world and published several non-fiction titles as well as four well-received novels. The birth of his son provided him with the opportunity to rekindle his love of creative writing, where he expresses his deep passion for a better world through love and tolerance. Hans lives with his husband and son on a small island off the west coast of Sweden.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Recent Release: Finding Amelia by Graham West

Title: Finding Amelia
Author: Graham West
Language: English
Published: 3rd September, 2017
Length: Length: 111,790 words (406 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-098-2
eBook: 978-1-78645-099-9
ASIN: B074W12R7S
Category: Fiction
Genre: Paranormal

Following the horrific death of his wife and child, Robert Adams struggles to rebuild a life with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Jenny. Their relationship is tested further when she expresses a desire to contact her mother through a spiritualist and he watches helplessly as they slowly drift apart.

But everything changes when Jenny begins to dream - dreams which take her into another world - a world inhabited by a young girl, imprisoned in a dark attic. A girl Jenny believes is an ancestor whose spirit is reaching out across the generations.

But who is she? What does she want? As Jenny's behaviour becomes increasingly dangerous and unpredictable, Robert finds himself confiding in Sebastian Tint - an old professor who claims to possess a sixth sense. Together, they employ retired genealogist Jack Staple to trace the family tree - but it is a journey that takes Robert down a road of discovery that threatens to tear their world apart.


Publisher's Review:
Finding Amelia is a compelling read, from start to finish. It is narrated by Robert Adams - the main character - in first person, and he is a seriously flawed narrator. There were times when I wondered if his indiscretions might do more than merely catch up with him, but there's something about him that keeps him redeemable in the reader's eyes.

The story unfolds following the death of Rob's wife and youngest child, and it's a trip to hell for both Rob and Jenny - his seventeen-year-old daughter. Rob's grief is tangible; he has some great support around him, yet he is alone and lonely, as is the way of grieving, the author's portrayal of which is gritty and real.

The supernatural mystery is 'fun' to follow - inverted commas because the events surrounding Amelia's persistence are not fun at all. We readers find out what is happening as Rob does, albeit with the benefit of emotional distance, always with the question hanging over Jenny's sanity, and, by extension, Rob's.

I really loved some of the secondary characters - Sebastian is my favourite character, even above Rob. Josie is lovely but a typical know-it-all psychologist type, and at times, I wished she'd keep her opinions to herself. Of course, my irritation wouldn't be possible if the characterisation wasn't excellent throughout.

Even better, the sequel is now in editing! Finding Amelia has a firm conclusion and ties all the major loose ends, but I can't wait to find out where Rob and Jenny's journey takes them next.



About the Author:
Graham West studied art at Hugh Baird college in Bootle, Merseyside, before joining the display team at Blacklers Store in Liverpool city centre where he spent seven years in the art department before moving on in 1981 to become a sign writer. He lives in Maghull with his wife, Ann, and has a daughter, Lindsay, and two grandchildren, Sonny and Kasper. Graham also plays guitar at weddings, functions and restaurants. He took up writing in 2000 and has had a couple of factual articles published in magazines. Finding Amelia is his first novel.

Friday, 1 September 2017

New Release: Dirty Mind by Roe Horvat

Title: Dirty Mind
Author: Roe Horvat
Language: English
Published: 1st September, 2017
Length: 47,990 words (164 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-163-7
eBook: 978-1-78645-164-4
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Adult, Pure Romance - M/M, Pure Romance - Contemporary

Available on Kindle Unlimited

Alexander Popescu is a university lecturer in a quiet German town. He's a respectable man in his thirties who stays fit, has a decent career and travels alone - his only vice is an occasional greasy meal. And beer. And violent computer games. Nobody has to know about the other Alex - the acclaimed porn writer. His ingenious erotic fantasies earn him good money and keep his capricious mind harmlessly entertained.

When his young friend and protégé Christian transfers to Freiburg for medical school, Alex is overjoyed...and terrified that Christian will find out about Alex's indecent alter ego. The time they spend together, as lovely as it is, could overturn Alex's carefully balanced life. Suddenly, the writing is not good enough, his hair seems to be thinning, his careful hookups leave him unfulfilled, and his dreams are haunted by the innocent young man he's vowed to protect.

However, Christian is not a boy any more. He's a grown man of twenty-one, clever and deadly attractive. And he's hiding some secrets of his own.


Editor's Review:
This review is going to be more of the 'I have the best job in the world' because the thing about being an editor/publisher is that I get to read so many stories that are utterly brilliant in their own unique way.

Dirty Mind is M/M Romance - great M/M romance, with age-gap, friends to lovers, some angst, some sexy time and a happy ending. It's got all the stuff that M/M romance readers appreciate (think 'pink bubble gum for the eyes').


Dirty Mind also has so many layers - themes that are almost literary, grim humour, existentialism, and a critique of the very thing it is.

I feel how Alex feels. Often - not just about writing erotic scenes. About all of my writing. About growing older, the powerlessness of trying to help friends deal with complex health challenges. Alex is real, and complicated, and he struggles with anxiety. This can be frustrating to read and easy to dismiss as 'oh god, more melodrama' but in everyday life, this is how anxiety operates. If you don't know that, you should count yourself very lucky indeed.

Christian is...well, the grown-up. Too grown up for his own good, really. Thank all that is Dieter for being the not-so-straightman heterosexual friend to our Christian. The pair of them are like some kind of just-post-pubescent student bots who eventually break their programming and develop sentience. I love that Roe Horvat showed us this - they weren't fully fledged adults when they arrived at university, because students aren't, and we see them mature, learn to fit into their skin. It's a great contrast to Alex and his somewhat fuddy-duddy set ways.

I absolutely love Dieter. So much.

And the worms! OMG, I cried with laughter whilst trying to deal with the excess saliva, because...been there, done that.

So, this is a scrappy review, isn't it? As I said at the start, I have the best job in the world, and my editing awaits! But I had to pop over and tell you all about Dirty Mind by Roe Horvat, which you can still buy for 99c today (release day - September 1st), $4.99 thereafter.



About the Author: Queer fiction author Roe Horvat was born in the post-communist wasteland of former Czechoslovakia. Equipped with a dark sense of sarcasm, Roe traveled Europe and finally settled in Sweden. They love Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, and daiquiri, with equal passion. When not hiding in the studio doing graphics, Roe can be found trolling cafés in Gothenburg, writing, and people-watching.


Friday, 18 August 2017

New Release: Hunting a Predator by J.E. Locke

Title: Hunting a Predator
Author: J.E. Locke
Language: English
Published: 18th August, 2017
Length: 60,000 words (240 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback ISBN: 978-1-910635-83-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-910635-84-1
ASIN: B074PWFHJDCategory: Fiction
Genre: Crime, Thrillers and Mystery, Contemporary Fiction

A police procedural inspired by CSI.

Meet Superintendent Brian Tyson, based at Scotland Yard. Aided by a group of forensic experts and the police of three different counties, he is charged with catching a serial rapist.

Having already attacked once in South London, the target is travelling north, and Brian is in hot pursuit. With a second attack in the Midlands - this time on a young Afro-Caribbean teenager - the hunt intensifies, with Brian getting ever closer to his prey.

Can he catch the rapist before he strikes again?


Editor's Review:
Whilst 'police procedural' is not my literary genre of choice, I'm quite partial to TV series about crack teams of profilers and highfaluting police officers embarking on caffeine-fuelled hunts for dangerous criminals.

Hunting a Predator has some definite hints of shows such as CSI, Criminal Minds and Cracker, but it is distinct in several ways. It's similar in the way it's told - through a series of scenes at distinct times and locations, linear progression of the case and the procedure itself - and, of course, there's the investigative team, led by Superintendent Brian Tyson - a former officer in the Special Services.

Other personnel include Anthony Terrence and Will Fordham - forensic psychologists who play together quite nicely, considering their profession and that they're based at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford respectively. Then there's Tom Donald - a senior forensic scientist - workaholic with a heart of gold and my favourite member of the team. Brian's personal assistant Olivia needs a shout-out, too, because it's clear Brian wouldn't be anywhere near as efficient without her at his side.

As the investigation escalates, the team draws in a few others, the most prominent of those being fifteen-year-old Alonso Davis - Ace to his friends. I won't say more about what he does, but he steals the show, and in some respects, this story is as much about Ace's growth as it is about solving the crime(s). He proves himself to be a great ally - the kind of young man who could rightfully wear the badge of 'feminist'.

Aside from the refreshing mix of ethnicity, age and gender among the main characters (the bias is still white males in their 30s-40s and realistic in context), a major strength of Hunting a Predator is that whilst the focus is on the investigation, it also explores the impact of the crimes on the victims, families, communities and those involved in caring for the victims / tracking down the rapist.

This, to me, is what makes this story distinct. I stopped watching CSI and Criminal Minds because once you've seen/read one criminal investigation you've pretty much seen/read them all. The crimes change, the victims have different names, but the procedure is the same old same old. Hunting a Predator digs deeper and without falling foul of romantic sub-plots, marriages sacrificed to the job, drug/alcohol/gambling addictions, and so on.

Content warning: includes reference to the nature of the attacks (rape, constraint, mutilation) on both animals and young women. In both cases, the details are scant and not graphically or gratuitously depicted, but may cause distress to some readers.

Buy 'Hunting a Predator':

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

New Release: In His Eyes by Larry Benjamin

Title: In His Eyes
Author: Larry Benjamin
Language: English
Published: 1st August, 2017
Length: 61,500 words (266 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback ISBN: 978 1 78645 138 5
eBook ISBN: 978 1 78645 139 2
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Literary, New Adult, Adult

"When you boys fall in love, fall in love with his smile - because his smile will never age or change - and his eyes because in his eyes, you will always see the truth." That advice launches two young men on the journey to adulthood.

Told in 139 "vignettes," each dedicated to a single event, this is the story of four young men who meet in college, and follows them for more than two decades as they navigate the landscape of modern gay life.

Often playful and imaginative, but firmly grounded in the reality of gay men living in a perplexing, often hostile world, In His Eyes takes us on a journey with these men as they mature and fall in love, and struggle to maintain relationships among petty disappointments and broken dreams, while navigating the rough terrain of acceptance both internal and external.

As they break apart and come together, wound and heal, we are left to ask ourselves: does love ever really die, or is it just reborn in another time and place?


Editor's Review:
What can I tell you about the new novel from Larry Benjamin? When I think of how readily I can waffle up a storm in any other circumstances, it's hard to believe I can't find words to do justice to In His Eyes (or, indeed, any of Larry's previous works). I could repeat the blurb, but that's pointless...

Larry will tell you that In His Eyes is very different from his previous novels, and I agree with him up to a point. Whilst he possesses a unique literary voice that shapes all of his stories, this one is told through vignettes and from four different points of view, where What Binds Us and Unbroken are both written in continuous prose and from one point of view only.

It also looks nothing like I expected it to when Larry first told me about it. I envisaged there would be a certain amount of separation between the four narrative strands, with the spotlight falling on one character and leaving the others in the downstage darkness until that character had taken their turn.

What we get instead is a braiding together, and in the same way as each strand of a braid at some point rises to the surface, briefly elevated by the other strands, it remains an inseparable part of the whole, lifting the other strands to the fore when it is their turn. I'm a bit in awe, to be honest, because when I reached the end, it dawned on me that I had travelled decades with these guys, yet not once did I feel there were times unaccounted for.

I realise this review doesn't at all capture the emotional journey of these characters, the ups and downs, the relationships they encounter, or the deep friendship that holds them together. I'm not even going to attempt to do that. You need to read In His Eyes and see for yourself.

Buy 'In His Eyes':

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Larry Benjamin - In His Eyes - cover reveal, preorder links, excerpt #LGBTQIA

* Available for Preorder *

I'm excited to announce that preordering is live for In His Eyes
– Larry Benjamin's 'first novel-length work since 2013 Lammy finalist Unbroken'.
(I'm quoting him. OK, paraphrasing a little.)

* * * * *

Preorder In His Eyes:

* * * * *

Expected: 1st August, 2017
Length: 61,500 words (266 pages) approx.

"When you boys fall in love, fall in love with his smile - because his smile will never age or change - and his eyes because in his eyes, you will always see the truth." That advice launches two young men on the journey to adulthood.

Told in 139 "vignettes," each dedicated to a single event, this is the story of four young men who meet in college, and follows them for more than two decades as they navigate the landscape of modern gay life.

Often playful and imaginative, but firmly grounded in the reality of gay men living in a perplexing, often hostile world, In His Eyes takes us on a journey with these men as they mature and fall in love, and struggle to maintain relationships among petty disappointments and broken dreams, while navigating the rough terrain of acceptance both internal and external.

As they break apart and come together, wound and heal, we are left to ask ourselves: does love ever really die, or is it just reborn in another time and place?

* * * * *

Many thanks to the wonderful Bec at Bike Book Reviews for hosting a cover reveal today. 💖  Head on over to read an exclusive excerpt.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale - up to 50% off Beaten Track Titles

In July, you can get up to 50% off Beaten Track Titles in the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale:

  • 25% off 2017 titles
  • 50% off all other titles
  • (does not include titles normally priced at 99c)

Here are the discount codes (they will also show up on each listing page):

  • SW100 Free
  • SSW75 75% off
  • SSW50 50% off
  • SSW27 25% off

To browse the Smaswords Sale:

To browse Beaten Track titles on Smashwords:

New Release: The Making Of Us by Debbie McGowan

Title: The Making Of Us
Author: Debbie McGowan
Language: English
Published: 20th June, 2017
Length: 97,000 words (366 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78645-042-5
eBook ISBN: 978-1-78645-043-2
Category: Fiction
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT, Humour, Romance and Relationships, Contemporary Fiction, New Adult

When English Lit. student Jesse Thomas meets Leigh Hunter, he has to reconsider a few assumptions he's made about himself.

Two years ago, Jesse joined Pride - the uni's LGBT+ society - to support best friend Noah, and Noah's boyfriend, Matty. As a straight, cismale ally, Jesse keeps a low profile - not difficult for someone as shy and body-conscious as he is.

Leigh Hunter is Noah and Matty's new housemate. Born with a life-threatening congenital condition, Leigh is intersex and identifies as queer - none of which alters Jesse's conviction that they are the most beautiful person in the world.

While Jesse and Leigh get to know each other, a new academic year begins in earnest, bringing with it the usual challenge of balancing work and play. Add in a week's holiday in Cornwall that Jesse and Leigh half-wish they hadn't agreed to, Jesse's unplanned involvement in the election of Pride's new officers, and some big decisions for Noah and Matty, it's going to be an interesting semester all round.

NOTE: this is a stand-alone novel, but you might wish to read the Checking Him Out series in order.


Editor's Review:
I count myself devastatingly lucky that I get to sneak-peek these books before most people, and this is simply amazing.

It features battles that all of us fight at some point in our lives, whether we're young slips of things like Jesse and Leigh, the main characters, or whether we're much older than that and still dealing with the fallout. There are struggles with weight, for acceptance, with self-image, and ultimately learning not only to stand up for others, but for ourselves too. This book hits home hard, but it also leaves you with a smile on your face and a warm fuzzy feeling in your belly.

Because this is proper friendship, romance and love at its best.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

New Release: Option Four by Jon Eliot Keane

Title: Option Four
Author: Jon Eliot Keane
Language: English
Published: 25th May, 2017
Length: 57,500 words (198 pages) approx.
ISBN: Paperback ISBN: 978 1 78645 126 2
eBook ISBN: 978 1 78645 127 9
Category: Fiction
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT, Drama, Romance and Relationships, Contemporary Fiction

It's 1997, and seventeen-year-old Donn Carhart wants to come out. There are four ways it could go: reject, tolerate, accept, or they'll say 'me too!'

But his parents don't like gay people, and he doesn't know any other gay kids.

After meeting Alex, an openly gay transfer student, and learning a little bit about gay history in the United States, Donn starts the Acceptance Project club at school. The club is about addressing discrimination, and it draws a lot of student members, including Thad - the most popular guy in his class, who just so happens to be Donn's crush.

After Donn comes out, a group of parents try to shut it down as a 'gay club' - a danger to their children and the community. With his family, community, and classmates pushing back on his decisions, will Donn push forward or will he opt out?


Editor's Review:
As a preamble, I'm going to explain the difficulty of getting a book like Option Four to the right audience.

1. It's contemporary fiction.
Except it's not quite contemporary, because it's set in 1997. Now, whilst that's not so long ago, in the fight for LGBT+ rights and equality, an awful lot has happened during the past twenty years, which is why stories like Option Four1. are so important. However, the BIC book categories2. currently list 'modern and contemporary fiction' as 'post-1945', so contemporary fiction it is.

2. It's LGBT+.
BIC has NO LGBT categories at all. It does, however, have a 'qualifier': 'of specific Gay and Lesbian interest'.
BISAC3. does have several LGBT categories (fiction/romance - general/gay/lesbian; young adult fiction/romance).
Amazon4. has the categories: fiction - gay or lesbian; romance - gay or lesbian; juvenile fiction - LGBT.
Smashwords5. has the categories: young adult or ten - gay & lesbian; gay & lesbian fiction - gay/lesbian.

On this occasion, the main character does identify as gay, but these categories are next to useless when it comes to listing LGBTQIA books that are NOT gay or lesbian (i.e. bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, etc.)

3. It's young adult (YA).
As the points above indicate, there is variation in how YA LGBT+ fiction is listed. Does Amazon's 'juvenile fiction' extend to 'young adult'?

3. It's fiction with romance.
This is the trickiest issue of all, because, on the one hand, there are those readers/authors who see 'romance' in the narrow sense defined by the RWA6., and they're disappointed when they buy a book categorised as romance only to find it's not what they were expecting. On the other, Option Four does have a significant romance story arc, but it's not the central story arc. Thus, fans of romance will likely enjoy the novel immensely, but it isn't categorised as a romance.


So, to my review.

What readers might notice first is how incredibly well crafted this novel is. Indeed, several of those who read Option Four during the publishing process asked the same question:

Is this really Jon Eliot Keane's first novel?

This isn't necessarily to assume that all first novels are bad, or even not that great, but they often have a rawness, a feeling of newness, and a slight sense of uncertainty that wears off as the author's confidence grows.

Jon Eliot Keane writes with confidence, giving the feel of a seasoned author with a few previous works under his belt, perhaps, in part, because he did what all authors should do: sought feedback from other authors and let the story mature a little before casting it out into the publishing pond.

That confidence transfers to us readers and confers trust in the author to guide us through the story, which is crucial to a story like Option Four.

Told from a first-person perspective, the story is written in continuous prose (i.e. it's written like a novel, in titled chapters) but it takes the form of the journal entries of the main character:
My name is Donner Charles Carhart.
Sometimes, in my more cynical moments, I wonder what possessed my parents to name me that. I mean, Donner's a great name, sure - for a reindeer.
These 'asides' provide sometimes humorous, always poignant insights into the events that unfold in the story, which centres on Donn's 'coming out / coming of age':

Ready for a shock?
Brace yourself. Okay. I'm going to write it down now. First time in my life I'll have ever written this down.
Writing it down makes it real.
That may be why I haven't written it down yet. I've been sitting here with the pen hovering over the paper for five minutes, gearing up for it.
Okay. Here goes.
I think I'm gay.
Well, actually, I'm pretty sure I'm gay.
There's some margin for maybe in there. I had a girlfriend once, but she came out as a lesbian about three months after we broke up, so I'm not sure that that counts. I mean, if she was a lesbian when we were dating, then were we really dating?
I suppose it doesn't matter.
Through his journal entries, Donn shares with us readers his thoughts and feelings about significant moments, his crush, his boyfriend, his friends, his parents, school tests, and so on. But what drives this story is Donn's search for acceptance - from his peers, his parents, the school and the community as a whole. He's pragmatic and confident; he sees a problem and comes up with a solution.

Donn's decision to set up 'The Acceptance Project' - an in-school club for tackling all forms of discrimination - is driven by this pragmatism, which is awesome, but it's also at the heart of many of the interpersonal challenges he faces. He's a flawed narrator, a young guy just starting to deal with the 'big stuff' of life and not always getting it right.

Option Four is a young-adult novel, written with young-adult readers as the intended audience, but it's a novel that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, LGBT+ or otherwise. Adolescence is an experience we all share, and there are many moments in this story that will strike a familiar chord for most of us, but there are also the unique insights into what it was like to be seventeen and gay in 1997.


1. Beaten Track has a number of current and upcoming titles that are 'contemporary/historical', all crucial to ensuring that the struggle towards LGBT+ equality - how far we've come - isn't forgotten:
2. As a UK-based publisher, the BIC system is used to categorise Beaten Track's printed books.
3. BISAC is used by GooglePlay.
4. Amazon categories are used for Kindle ebooks. However, once the books are listed on the various Amazon websites, they also take into account the BISAC and BIC categories (depending on location).
5. Smashwords categories are used for our wider ebook distribution to iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Scribd etc.
6. According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), "Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."