Friday, 21 December 2012

Prepare to be creeped out. The Baptist by Ruby Barnes

Since the debacle over Amazon fake, friend and family reviews over the last couple of months, it seems to me reviews are a bit harder to come by. My opinion is authors and some readers have become reluctant to post reviews on Amazon in case of removal. 
The following review for The Baptist is posted on the author's blog and reproduced here with permission. It's quite a cerebral piece and I'm flattered by the literary comparison. I highly respect Jim Williams as an author. He has a very strong literary style and is a Booker Prize nominee, and I'm honoured by his insight and kinds words. At the same time his review reminds me what a traumatic experience it was to write The Baptist as I had to live with that first person narrative for about a year.

Jim Williams' review of The Baptist by Ruby Barnes

In popular fiction the serial killer is a trope for the embodiment of evil rather than an extreme example of the everyday experience of madness that may affect our friends or ourselves.  For that reason Hannibal Lecter has more in common with Dracula Prince of Darkness than, say, the Yorkshire Ripper in his ignorant ordinariness.  For the same reason, the madness of the fictional serial killer is a permanent part of the character’s identity – masked perhaps, but always there – while in contrast the madness of actual life is like a career of part time jobs: some good, some horrible, but all episodic.  Ruby Barnes’s insight into this reality is what makes The Baptist so truthful, convincing and distinctive.
The story is told mainly from the point of view of the killer himself, John Baptist.  He is committed to an institution in his teens for the murder of his brother and here he meets Mary, whose madness is of a more chaotic type.  On his release he creates a normal life in Ireland, including a marriage with children and a job running a small garage business.  His tendency to madness is always there but it is managed by drugs, as is the case for many people.  However – and this is another intelligent insight of the author – John secretly comes off his drugs: he actively chooses his psychosis over his sanity because the experience of madness is invigorating and empowering (at least on a temporary basis until its disruptive effects become overwhelming).  In this condition John encounters Mary again and they embark on a spree to realise his mission.
The most effective passages of the book deal with John’s encounter with a mysterious friend, Feargal, and the resumption of his relations with Mary.  Because we see events through John’s eyes the surface of the narrative becomes slippery with uncertainty as to the reality of what we are seeing, and the identities of characters seem to elide one into another.  This part is wonderfully done because of the delicate writing, which is restrained, slyly humorous, and at times lyrical.  The best parts are reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro.  The writing throughout is of a very high standard. 
As with most books there are flaws, though none of them fatal.  This isn’t a detective story, but Barnes introduces a detective, McAuliffe, who is linked to John’s history by an inadequately explained backstory and whose role is essentially redundant.  Also there are several shifts in the narrative point of view that work only so-so because the dominance of John’s viewpoint has the effect that the shifts come as something of a surprise.  It is also fair to repeat that this is not a standard serial killer thriller, and this means that the reader does not have the safety and comfort of the usual conventions.  Prepare to be creeped out.

Jim Williams is the author of Scherzo, ten other novels and two works of non-fiction.

The Baptist - a psychological thriller. Available from all online bookstores in all formats, including tree. 

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Hotel Creative Writing for Publication

A tribute to the NUI (National University of Ireland) writing course and its tutors Suzanne Power and John MacKenna.

Hotel Creative Writing for Publication 
Words by Ruby Barnes 
to the tune of Hotel California by The Eagles
On a Kilkenny footpath, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of ambition and a thousand euro to spare
 Up ahead in the distance I saw the light of success
Suzanne Power in her floral prints and John McKenna’s string vest.
There they stood in the doorway, Joan of Arc and William Tell
And I was thinking to myself this could be Heaven or this could be Hell
 Then she lit up a candle and she showed us the way
There were voices down the corridor I thought I heard them say
Welcome to Creative Writing for Publication
Such a lovely place, but not a luvvies’ place
Freedom to dream of imminent publication
Any time of year light the candle here 
And face your fear.

If your character’s twisted - he killed a guy with a bar
Or your bloke is checking out the good-looking girl with no bra
 Just channel those weirdos, talk out loud for a week
Ignore the strange glances of those who think you’re a freak.
Now let’s tweak the narrator - first person post modernist
Third person omniscient, second person horribly pissed
 And map out the timeline - flashback, backfill and so on
And if it gets confusing, kill someone or take off your thong.
Welcome to Creative Writing for Publication
Such a lovely place, but not a luvvies’ place
Freedom to dream of imminent publication
Any time of year light the candle here 
And face your fear.

So we face the non-fiction but are lacking in stimuli
All thoughts of a memoir guaranteed to bring a tear to each eye
 Master McKenna’s chamber applies his music therapy
We listen to each other’s shite then smile and nod happily
Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
 ‘No way’ said Ms Power, 'You are programmed to critique.
Life will never be the same, you all have Writer’s Disease.'
Farewell Creative Writing for Publication
Such a lovely place, but not a luvvies’ place
We’re heading for imminent publication
Any time of year light the candle here 
And face your fear.
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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Can you get something for nothing?

There's no such thing as a free lunch, right? 

I've been offering The New Author for free as an e-book for the past few weeks as part of my haphazard marketing strategy. This isn't a KDP Select freebie, it's a price-matched affair. The New Author freebie has resulted in several thousand downloads on Amazon US and UK (and possibly Barnes & Noble etc but who knows with the slow Smashwords reporting). A few free downloads have occurred on Amazon DE and ES where it's also gone free. Has it stimulated sales of my novels? Difficult to say but things are a bit quiet on that front for me as for many other indie authors. What has surprised me is the Amazon paperback sales of The New Author which have consistently beaten my novel e-book sales during this 'experiment'. (I hesitate to call it an experiment because, like I said, I'm like a flag in the wind when it comes to pricing strategy. Maybe I should increase my novel prices? Hey, yeah. See what I mean?)

Another by-product of this 'freeness' is the fairly continuous presence of The New Author in top ten genre rankings alongside paid books and established freebie must-haves like Smashwords Style Guide and Write Good or Die. It's a rare event for me to get into a genre listing (although Peril did manage to get into a UK Drama listing this week) and I'm enjoying the vainglory of The New Author achieving that in a niche genre that requires just a few dozen downloads a day for a listing.

Reviews are starting to appear, as well, and a particularly interesting blog review turned up yesterday from one Michael N. Marcus. He loved The New Author but thinks I'm throwing money away by giving it for free and here's his blog post on the subject:

So, whadya think? Should I put The New Author e-book back to priced? Is it the dumbest marketing strategy you ever heard? Am I flushing money down the toilet in a fit of genre-listing narcissim, 'cos nobody will buy my novels on the back of a piece of non-fiction? 

Let me know and I'll email you a free e-copy of ... oh, wait a minute, that's what got me into this fix in the first place!

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Profane Language? WTF! The Baptist Profane Twelve Days of Christmas

(Seriously, if you are offended by profanity then stop here.)

Last year I emailed a copy of The Baptist to a friend's work as a pdf attachment. That email was intercepted and she received an automatically generated message from her employer's Mail Sweeper programme.

This e-mail has been stopped in Profane Messages. 

A report was attached to the message with the MIMEsweeper Analysis results. The report was studied by all and sundry tea-break and the content engendered a lot of discussion. Irish tea-breaks are an occasion for great craic. The consensus was The Baptist contained a lot of action but not enough components to perform it. They discussed the parts of speech.

The report results are below and I have to say that, while I didn't intend to write a profane novel, I can remember exactly each and every page where the offending words occur.

The phrase 'arse' was found at location 70126
and so on. I'll just share the count.
arse x 1
balls x 2
bang x 3
bastard x 12 (a dozen, one of them capitalised therefore a pronoun?)
bitch x 6 (half dozen, imperial measure)
bloody x 8 (quaint that bloody should be a profanity in this day and age, and might actually have described murder weapon)
blow job x 1 (shouldn't I have hyphenated the blow-job? That's what I've been doing wrong)
bollocks x 1 (shouldn't there be at least two of those fellas?)
crap x 2 (okay, in UK and Ireland it's an expletive)
cunt x 3 (I do apologise, it's a very vulgar word but, in my defence, it was, or rather they were, components of dialogue. Vulgar dialogue. Not uncommon in Ireland.)
fag x 5 (means cigarette in UK and Ireland and that was the intention)
fuck x 10 (no argument there and good to see it's gone decimal)
fucker x 4 (nice alliteration and I'm getting an idea for a Christmas song now)
fucking x 21 (more than a score - in fairness, there is a lot of that going on)
penis x 1 (poor little lad, all on his own, but just goes to show it takes only one)
prick x 3 (oh, right ... well)
queer x 1 (surely acceptable as an adjective?)
sex x 7 (the vanilla variety is profane?)
sexy x 2 (sexy too)
shirt-lifter x 1 (at least it's hyphenated, if homophobic, but anyhow it's dialogue)
shit x 11 (one short of the dozen)
shite x 1 (the Irish for above)
slut x 1 (so few?)
wanker x 1 (there's always one)
white trash x 2 (confused, is that profane?).

Right, Christmas is on the horizon. So, in the spirit of the season, I offer:

The Baptist Profane Twelve Days of Christmas

(I'll just go to straight to the last verse)

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Twelve bastards bragging
Eleven shits a fan-hitting
Ten fucks a flying
Nine fucking expletives (cheated, there wasn't nine of anything)
Eight bloody bus stops
Seven sex in the opens
Six bitches barking
Five ... fags ... a ... puffing!
Four fighting fuckers
Three quiet cunts
Two dangly balls
And a slut arse-wanker penis blow-job bollocks.

(That leaves a spare queer sexy shirt-lifter shite white trash, sounds like one of my characters.)

I'm sure we'll be hearing that little ditty on the radio.

All in the name of literary art, my dears.


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Thursday, 6 December 2012

Taking Your E-readers for Granted? E-readers 101

The other day I was delivering the first session of 'Join the E-revolution - Self-publishing an E-book' in Carrick-on-Suir library, South Tipperary. We had fifteen participants, more than enough for the small room, and it was an intimate, informal atmosphere. I had brought my gadgets with me - kindle, Kobo, iPhone and laptop (plus a bit of old fashioned paper).

A few people in the room owned e-readers themselves but for many this was a first look at e-books.

There I was, blabbering away about front matter in the mobi or something, when I noticed a few heads bobbing but many more had the 'what on earth are you talking about' expression on their faces. It's only too easy to forget that not everyone is already surfing the wave and all this e-book revolution is still new for a lot of readers and authors.

Then someone asked me if they had to buy an ebook from the Apple store to read it on their iPad or could they buy it elsewhere or even on Amazon. Another wanted to know if I needed to buy multiple copies to view the same book on all my different devices, and why did I need all those devices anyway? 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Bestselling Book Basics with Bateman in Bangor

At the end of October 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend Colin Bateman's Best Seller workshop. Here's my piece about what I learned from this prolific and successful author and screen-writer on Multi-Story's Have Your Say.

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Monday, 26 November 2012


According to Bill Gates, or someone, the average human mind can concentrate on a maximum of eight things at one time. In this world of technology we often have eight or more windows open on our computer and many more in our minds. Throw in the day job, a tribe of kids wanting taxi service, pets chewing things they shouldn't and a leaking tap in the kitchen. Add the never-ending stream of spam and scam emails, facebook ads (no, fb, I'm not looking for twenty-something gorgeous single women in my area - or, I should say, they're not looking for me), robo phone surveys and door to door callers. Yes I have broadband. Yes I would like uncongested broadband. No I don't believe you when you say you have cheaper uncongested broadband. No I don't want a genuine oil painting. Hey, let go of my puppy. Okay I'll buy it, just put the dog down on the ground unharmed and I'll sign. Slams door.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Look before you leap!

When journalism MA student Antonia Molloy interviewed me recently it turned out to be a bit more than I bargained for. Not the typical list of standard questions sent by email but a rather soul-searching forty minutes on Skype. I think she's shown great insight in her write-up. Hop on over to her blog and have a read of One Man; Two Men. In the meantime I'm going to check myself in for therapy! 

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Thursday, 15 November 2012

50k means celebration where I come from

Well, Ruby's blog just trundled over 50,000 page views since launch. Not bad for a little blog from down country rural Ireland. Come have a browse and sign up to Ruby's News for a celebratory free e-copy of The Crucible Part 1 in whatever format suits you. $3.99 value and great reviews on Amazon!

If you've enjoyed reading Ruby's blog then please sign up to Ruby's News for freebies, advance review copies of upcoming novels and occasional updates. Thanks!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Rediscovering the spark

(See end of post for free e-book!)
It happens. When the Moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, or whatever. You have a creative idea and it translates. Verse, music, prose, it's a product of the inspiration that grabs you and makes perfect sense at the time, like a dream that lets the new day dawn with a feeling of elation.

Writing a novel is a lengthy process and completing the manuscript can take anything from a few months to several years. That's a long time to maintain the spark of inspiration that initiated the novel idea. Then editing is required, adding time and over-familiarity. At the end, when the work is ready to publish, an author often just wants to get done and over. Somewhere, deep inside, the ember of inspiration remains but the author has long since moved on to kindle another fire.

I get the impression that mainstream authors birth their creations and only revisit them when forced to do so by interviewers or high profile literary reviewers. Ideally they don't even read the critics' viewpoints and certainly never scour online reviews at Amazon or Goodreads. Not so the independent authors! Reader reviews are a valuable tool for indies to gain exposure and garner referral sales.

Monday, 5 November 2012

It's a long way to Tipperary, but let's go!

Okay, so South Tipperary might not be the most convenient global venue for a double workshop on e-publishing, but it's free! A series of two workshops on the e-revolution and how to self-publish your novel or non-fiction as an e-book (warning: contains humour and mild peril).
23rd and 30th November in Carrick-on-Suir library, places limited to 15. Registration is required but the course is free of charge. See pic for contact details.

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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Body count? Let's say a quarter million even.

In the aspiring writer circles of Kilkenny I've been accused of leaving bodies strewn across the literary landscape. That's the nature of my writing, but I thought I'd challenge the assumption and count the corpses.

Peril - let's see. Ilie the beggar, Tom the gay drug dealer, Aunt Mary the spinster, Renee the mistress. Just the four of them. How about Ger Mayes, does he survive? That's another story.

The Baptist - brother Ray, Mr & Mrs Baptist, Daly the Leaping Loony, Medwyn the Mad (well, okay, he didn't die), Joe McCarthy the failed doctor, Charles the aristocrat, those two obese tourists at the Cliffs of Moher, Alan the mechanic, then two more but that would give the game away. Eleven in The Baptist.

The Crucible Part 1 - 144,003 USA citizens (or did they survive the Rapture?), 100,000 Iranian foot soldiers, 77 Africans (mostly despots), two monkeys, a chimpanzee and a Dutchman. Let's call it a quarter of a million even. Maybe I've peaked there.

The New Author - no one dies in this one. Two hundred pages of tips on writing, building an author social media platform, and e-publishing your book. Currently free on

Allen's Mosquito - The Crucible Part 2 body count? Well, we'll just have to wait and see. Due for release in 2013.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What's your writing mood? Mine is a controlled frenzy.

Mrs Ruby says I'm an oxymoron. 

How do you create? 90% inspiration and 10% perspiration, or the other way around?

I like to write in a relaxed setting. I'm a Peacemaker – scented candle or incense, Buddha Bar on the music system. Pilates exercises performed with control and precision, establishing the inner core. Elsewhere in the house family rampage at a safe distance, out of earshot. Writing flows from the spirit. Characters talk aloud and their dialogue falls upon the keyboard. At least that's what I thought until I was invited onto The Undercover Soundtrack by Roz Morris. 

When I examined what had gone on during the writing of The Baptist I discovered Peacemaker isn't really my default mode. I'm a Moodmaker. John and Mary rampaged through the asylum and rural Ireland to the tune of controlled craziness. When Alice appeared on the scene things became frenzied and uncontrollable. Their lunatic love, however, took on soft romantic jazz and blues tones as they circled each other and moved in for the kill. 

Head on over to The Undercover Soundtrack, turn up the volume, read and listen to the full story of how Melody Gardot and Nick Cave guided me through the moral and murder maze of The Baptist. I ain't gonna lie to you, it gets weird ;-) P.S. There's an e-copy of The Baptist to be one for one lucky commenter.

Many thanks to Roz Morris for this eye-opening opportunity!

Note: no brothers, mental health patients, trainee doctors, obese tourists, degenerate aristocrats or car mechanics were actually harmed in the writing of The Baptist.

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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Have you got what it takes? Write that book!

I’ve always felt I have a novel inside of me. When I hear someone say this, a mental image appears of surgery being performed on the speaker to extract their story. Dripping with the experience of life, it emerges from the donor, be it memoir, fiction or a travelogue of sub-Saharan Africa.

There is almost no one on this planet who has led a totally uninteresting life. Even then the reason they have led such a life might in itself be interesting. A twenty-first century glut of celebrity memoirs and novels shows everyone is capable of producing a story of sorts (although we know they sometimes get a little help along the way). The trick is in the writing. Does it engage the target audience? Fact or fiction, there is an art to storytelling. In Ireland a shanachie is a gifted verbal storyteller. To hear one is to never forget the story or the shanachie (Niall de Burca is a good example). A novel author should look to leave the same impression.

Unless you are trained in writing, it’s unlikely that you will produce a best-selling masterpiece with your first attempt at writing a novel. Those that do often have an education and career in journalism behind them, having written to the moon and back.

Disheartened? Well, there is another alternative. Pick up one, or why not several, of the renowned How To books on writing. Read them all, digest and internalise the content and apply immediately to your writing. Wait a minute, isn’t that writing by numbers? Will the result resemble a picture painted by numbers, similarly lacking in spontaneity and creativity? More than likely, yes

So now we come to the crux of the matter. As a new author if you want to write a good novel then, in almost all cases, you need to build your experience of writing. You might be a marathon writer, throwing yourself at an entire novel. Alternatively you’re a sprinter and that means short stories. Either way, a literary athlete. I hope you’re dressed appropriately.

This post is an extract from The New Author by Ruby Barnes, 200 pages of tips and guidance on writing, social media and e-publishing. Available at all good e-bookstores.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Time waits for no man

The grass under the tree is mostly moss. Roots break through to trip the unwary. Sky blues the thickening thatch of fresh spring leaves and lets the sun’s gentle rays warm me.
This willow and I, are we of an age? My waistline thickens faster than its trunk.
A bird searches the greening branches for a moment and then flies on. My nestlings will leave me in due course. I don’t want to contemplate that.
My complexion has fared better than the bark, rough and crisp against my back.
The sun is stronger now, easing limbs and promising a summer of slumber. I settle deeper into the willow’s womb. It pulls a share of the moisture from the ground, roots that go deeper than mine. Leaves bud, grow and thrive on light while I must consume, like a raptor, to survive. The imperceptible synthesis, my audible breathing.
A breeze aloft is more movement than sound. The pulse beats in my ears. It skips, then resumes.
This isn’t the time. There’s much to be done, some of it not yet known. When all is done and the birds are flown I will return and let willow take me to her bosom.

And the caretaker said "I'll have to ask you to move off the lawn." 

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Monday, 15 October 2012

Tweet dreams are made of this

So you want to know how to keep your blog content alive, re-use your twitter microblog moments of glory and broaden your social media reach? Bear with me, I'm going to take you off on a hygiene products tangent.

You're walking down a corridor at work, a hotel lobby for an event, the final few steps to the wine bar for a date. Did you remember to put on anti-perspirant deodorant? Doesn't matter, you're cool. But now you start to worry about whether you forgot to put it on and the sweat begins. Even if you put it on now it would be too late. What's that odour? Body or fear? That's how I feel about all the things I have to do to keep my social media platform running. I've forgotten something essential, my weaknesses (social armpits) are exposed and the strange smell in the room is me. How can I keep things sweet, make sure the toilet paper is hanging the right way everywhere I go and maintain my sanity with everything else going on?

Social media fads come and go. Remember MySpace? A few months ago Google+ was going to be the next sweet little number. Since its flotation the predicted demise of Facebook has had people scrabbling for footholds on Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon and goodness knows where else. Everything is a whirling blur of social networks, blogs, photo collections, discussion forums, online chat and update feeds.

How about Twitter? What is the point of a 140 character message which might not get read by anyone before it sinks into the 340 million daily tweets? Maybe you use it for a kind of global chat. Are you a microflash wizard who gets favorited every five minutes and manages to send tweets viral? Twitter doesn't seem to offer much to those of us mortals who don't have spare hours to follow the streams of consciousness. Unless you're a blogger.

Content is the key to good blogging. Some folk blog about their routine daily life, others about a book release, product review or maybe a competition. Authors engage in round-robin writing challenges, give updates on their WIP and share writing tips. People tend to follow or bookmark the blog if the content has value for the reader: well written, entertaining and pertinent. They skim and immediately forget uninspired posts.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The housemate from hell - her or me?

This short story is based upon true life events. Thanks for reading.

The letting agent arranged a joint viewing of the canal-side property at five o’clock on a Monday afternoon in April.
Take the turn off the Preston Brook main street just after the canal bridge. Then drive down the gravel road, past the derelict rope works. 1 Canalside is the first semi-detached house on the left. The building is in good repair but unfurnished.

I parked a good way up the gravel road, which was more of a path, and approached on foot. A black Volkswagen Golf with darkened windows was in the driveway, a dark shadow of a figure just visible in the driver’s seat.
The first few steps on Canalside put me in a relaxed mood. Birds chirped in a small gated apple orchard that banked the canal. A deep-throated mechanical rhythm came from the mouth of the canal tunnel, just visible beyond Canalside’s seven houses. It increased in volume as the prow of a canal barge emerged from the tunnel, its rope fenders clustered around the long, low steel hull. Foot after foot of red painted steel emerged, a man at the tiller easing off the throttle as the stern cleared the tunnel mouth. He saw me up above the orchard and waved. I returned.
‘Mr Mayes?’ a voice greeted me from behind.
I turned to the speaker and extended a hand. The appearance of the female letting agent escapes my recollection, as does her name. By comparison, the woman who then stepped out of the black Golf, and smoothed her leather skirt, is burnt into my memory.
‘Mr Mayes, this is Ms Doyle. As I explained on the phone, Ms Doyle has first refusal on 1 Canalside as her enquiry was received before yours. On that understanding, and to save time, we’ve agreed to view the property together. Okay?’
We both nodded and Ms Doyle extended her hand to me.
‘Fay,’ she said.
Her hand was cool and wiry.
‘Ger,’ I returned, and let her have the look. What I received back was a once-over that didn’t end until Fay released my hand. First impressions? She was my age or slightly older, perhaps early thirties. Tall, maybe five-seven. Dark, like a gypsy. Unsavoury, like a biker, yet thrilling. Straight away I knew that 1 Canalside was my Hotel California. This could be heaven or this could be hell.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Size does matter! Keep it small. Tiny.

Please tell me you all have the same problems as I do in this internet-based world that we live in. It's all driven by usernames, passwords, URLs, cookies and crumbs or something. An infinite number of web places with wondrous free things awaiting if you just register, sign up, log in, tune in and trip out. Maybe there's a log in with facebook option, or twitter or something? It all just seems to work. Until it doesn't.

This person is saying terrible things about you ... A friend has tagged you in a photo ... I can't believe this is you in this video. You click the message and, hey presto, someone has hacked your twitter, your facebook and who knows what else. You might not even know you've been compromised, unless a kind friend who has received spam from your hijacked account decides to let you know. Do you use the same username and password for internet banking and social media? System meltdown.

Almost as bad is when someone munches your cookies. You go to Goodreads, facebook, twitter, Google, webmail or whatever and hit the first letter of your username. It doesn't fill in the rest like it usually does. You type it in and wait for the long forgotten password to automatically appear as a row of asterixes. It doesn't. This can happen accidentally (using too broad a brush when clearing out internet history so no-one knows you've been looking at cute puppies), deliberately (if you let comeone else use your computer and they trash your cookies while eradicating their forensic trace evidence, because who can you trust these days?) or inadvertently (e.g. when you start using a new browser or your employer does an upgrade that wipes the slate clean or your hardware / software spontaneously combusts because it just knows your life is becoming dependent upon it). But when those cookies are gone, they're gone.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Pricing strategies for eBooks? Like a flag in the wind!

If there's one thing that does my head in about being an independent eBook author it's pricing strategy. It makes me feel like this:

The ePublishing demon barks in my ear. Down, demon, down.

So, time to vent. When I started out as an indie in March 2011 with the launch of Peril, I went for 99 cents / 77 pence, the minimum. My focus was on gaining readership. The book slowly gained a bit of exposure, sales were modest and positive reviews started to come in.

I went through early crises of confidence with the title, the book cover and the blurb, all of which didn't help the book's initial impact.

Then, in the autumn of 2011, I had an epiphany (unlike John Baptist, my epiphany didn't involve multiple murder by drowning) - I'm lucky, I have a day job, I don't need eBook revenue to eat.

Whether it was an altruistic move or just a tactic to gain readership (and a dumb one with only one title published) I figured people didn't have to pay for my 90,000 words. So I decided to go free and, via Smashwords, B&N and Kobo, forced a zero price on Amazon in November 2011. That resulted in 16,000 downloads, reaching #12 in the top 100 free titles and producing some follow-on sales (all this happened before KDP Select existed).

Friday, 21 September 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey? A load of old rope … knot.

I must be almost the last person on the planet to read Fifty Shades of Grey. EL James has become the latest big-selling author to be maligned by readers and authors alike, as much for her writing style as for the content, so I thought I'd take a look. Well, okay, my wife got hold of a copy and I started to sneak off with it into dark corners. Here's what I found (warning - contains mild spoilers, double entendres and spanking of writers, readers and most everyone).

The most immediately noticeable thing about Fifty Shades is the first person, present tense narration. This was originally written as Twilight fan fiction, a series that uses the same intimate and claustrophobic narrative style. I'm no stranger to first person (my own first two indie novels use that style) and well aware of its limitations. A lot of readers immediately walk away from first person and those who don't like the style but persevere in hopes of BDSM mommy porn are already hard to please.

With first person narrative the reader is obliged to stay within the narrator's mind and only gets their take on things. Timelines tend to be linear, every day accounted for with a strong sense of chronology that risks becoming mundane. The first person narrator will observe, think and talk in a consistent style with a vocabulary that might feel repetitive to the reader. Think about it; we tend to use the same spoken words and thoughts on a day to day basis. Anastasia is a young thing, innocent, educated, intelligent, low in self-esteem but not isolated from the modern world. Her account of events is going to be from her perspective: naive, humorous, inquisitive, infatuated, insecure, unrequited, confused and, at times, clich├ęd. Despite her strong education and literary interests, she isn't going to have the life knowledge and hindsight that will enable her to eloquently describe her observations, experiences, physical feelings and emotions. Having accepted that, the FSOG story can be examined further.

The paperback copy that came into my hands was well-fingered. It had sweated in the hands of numerous ladies as they took lengthy baths to ensure a private reading away from interfering hubbies. When I had the chance to claim it for my own it was already past its prime, all floppy and wrinkled. The first few pages slipped from the spine onto the floor with a sigh. I held the remainder and tried to picture all those readers. Would the book be an anti-climax? Or had they all reached the self-gratification they had been searching for? (Compare the FSOG mommy porn content with my poor efforts and you'll see it ain't easy to avoid slipping into slapstick innuendo and double entendre!)

It was hard going. (Okay, I'll stop with that now.) The first fifty or so pages were all chick lit romance and I thought I'd made a mistake in trying FSOG. Then I remembered the first words from my wife as she had reached the first raunchy bits - "She has no gag reflex!" What could she possibly mean? I persevered. Things started to get weird. Non-disclosure agreements and contracts. Vanilla sex occurred, with a cherry on top. Things were looking bad for Anastasia in her innocence. I couldn't imagine all the previous readers of this copy (probably the entire female population of holy Catholic Ireland) had read a novel containing stuff normally only found in the red light district and live sex shows of Amsterdam.

Well, it didn't go there. It went somewhere else, far more disturbing.

Most of us are not natural leaders. We spend a lot of our work and personal lives looking for people to tell us what to do. In the majority, I think we're submissive by nature. The minority are dominant. When someone in authority directs us we, in the majority, tend to comply. That's how society works.

Take the concept into a personal relationship. If that dominant person is physically attractive, and there's an irresistible chemistry, it can lead to a relationship that appears unfair from the outside but satisfies the couple's private needs. That's what happens in FSOG. Anastasia is surprised by her own participation but justifies it with the rationale that she's really trying to convert Christian to normality. That's one hook to keep the reader going - the hope that Mr Gorgeous Perv will convert to a romantic. The other hook is a promise of hard core misbehaviour, as specified in the dreaded BDSM contract.

I did enjoy the touches of wry humour and the use of Anastasia's foxy inner goddess and insecure subconscious to explain her thought processes. Unrequited love and lust has always been a favourite topic for me. Anastasia wants Christian Control Freak to behave in a more predictable fashion and there's some irony in that. She's willing to endure physical and emotional debasement in an attempt to bring his behaviour and moods into a spectrum she can cope with. At the end of the day the subtle flaws in her character outweigh his overt perversity, as she is ultimately bent on relationship self-destruction and predictably sabotages the stairway to romance heaven every time it presents itself.

The ending leaves a void as Anastasia pricks her own balloon. Annoying, yes. A set up for the next book in the series, yes. EL James maintains the titillation and keeps her readers on the cusp of release. Yes.

Ruby Barnes is the author of The New Author, The Crucible, The Baptist and Peril

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Is twitter driving you demented?

I have a guest post today over on Sweet Louise Wise's blog.

It describes how Feed140 and Triberr can help you regain your sanity in the world of blogging and twitter.

Please go on over and have a gander / butcher's ;-)

If you've enjoyed reading Ruby's blog then please sign up to Ruby's News for freebies, advance review copies of upcoming novels and occasional updates. Thanks!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

So, you've written a novel? Hurray! Go edit.

Completion of a novel is a great satisfaction in itself. Celebrate that achievement and then put the book aside for a period of time, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months if you can stand it. Start another project, keep writing, but let your completed manuscript be for a while. When you come back to it, you do so as a reader instead of author and you'll have a much more objective take on what works and what doesn't.

So, putting on your editor's hat, what should you be looking for? Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King is a very useful book that contains detailed guidance including checklists, exercises and techniques for editing your novel into shape. The chapter headings of the book (e.g. Show and Tell, Characterization and Exposition, Point of View) reveal editing for what it really is. Editing is the process of realigning your novel with best practice. You read your work through, compare it with The Rules and then adjust as best you can.

How you accomplish this task depends upon what works for you. Here are some characteristic approaches.

The Reiterator likes to edit on the hoof whilst writing the manuscript. S/he writes a paragraph, reads back the paragraph, adjusts, rereads, tweaks. Once the manuscript first draft is finished, The Reiterator may feel that the job is complete. Nevertheless, a holistic view is needed in editing that first draft to ensure the perfect pieces of the jigsaw meld well together. A disadvantage of The Reiterator is completion of the first draft can take a very, very long time compared to other approaches which are more tolerant of imperfection.

The Salami Slicer takes a knife to the manuscript and severs slices of less than perfect writing according to each of The Rules. The Salami Slicer places the narrative voice hat upon their head and reads the manuscript through for consistent and appropriate narrative point of view, adjusting as necessary. Then the dialogue hat is donned, the show-not-tell hat and so on. This approach means a new read through for every rule but is very thorough. One pitfall is The Salami Slicer can become fixated on a particular aspect of The Rules and overdo the editing. For example, the word that is often overused by new authors and can be eliminated unless essential for the meaning of a sentence, but such a narrow focus can lead to a mechanical approach and leave readers tripping over sentences where that is actually needed but has been cut.

The Jack of All Trades applies all the rules at once as s/he reads through the manuscript, spotting discontinuities, point of view slips, structural and grammatical problems etc. as they arise. This is the fastest and most holistic way to edit but requires a high degree of alertness and flexibility. If you can do this then perhaps you have a future career sideline as an editor!

The Listener prefers to hear the manuscript read aloud. A traditional Listener will lock themselves away and read the book out loud to themselves, but the 21st century Listener uses a text-to-speech facility on their e-reading device or laptop. There are numerous text-to-speech voices and accents available free on the web, but even the robotic default MS voices do a good job of exposing missing commas, word echo, unintentional alliteration and stilted or unnatural dialogue. A good Listener can sense, from the cadence of spoken word, the mood and emotions of the piece. That's if they can concentrate and stay awake for the duration of the reading.

The Outsourcer wants to be done with the manuscript once the first draft is completed and have a third party (sometimes more than one) take care of slapping the novel into shape. Depending upon the level of financial investment you are willing to make, this may be an option. Some novel writing books advocate passing your manuscript through the hands of different types of editor e.g. developmental, copy, proofreading. The advantage of this is you can whisk your manuscript off to the third party as soon as it's finished, no time wasted. The disadvantage is the author doesn't gain the learning themselves from having self-edited. In addition, editors can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. If, as an independent author, you do want to outsource your editing then you need an element of confidence that your writing has reached a level that makes paid-for editing worthwhile.

Self-editing is a learning experience. Being able to spot what works and what doesn't, and learning how to fix the deficiencies, eventually leads to an increased sophistication in the author's writing. These skills can be further developed by participating in writing groups where you will also have the opportunity to edit the work of others.

The above is an extract from The New Author - a self-help guide to novel writing, publishing as an independent ebook author and promoting your brand using social networks 

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Silver bullet or viral snake oil?


What's this blog post about? Vampires? A zombie virus? No, something far less interesting to readers, but more interesting to authors. The secrets of book marketing.

Every once in a while there's a huge kerfuffle in the indie author community. Sometimes it's plain old envy wrapped up in attempted literary criticism. Remember when J.K. Rowling was the bane of everybody's life because she was so successful but a lot of folks thought her prose to be less than Nobel Prize for Literature standard? How about the disdain poured by writers on Stephanie Myer's Twilight series? More recently the crown of scorn has passed on to E.L. James for Fifty Shades.

Nobel Prize Medal for Literature
The medal of the Swedish Academy represents a young man sitting under a laurel tree who, enchanted, listens to and writes down the song of the Muse.

What's the common thread here? Where's the silver bullet, the marketing secret (probably an underhand technique as we all write so much better than these household names, don't we)? Wizards, horny vampires and mommy porn? Well, people want it. In large portions, apparently. Did they know what they wanted before it was laid out before them in all its Quidditch playing, fang bearing, grey eyed bondage glory? A latent demand for being somehow spellbound. Clever marketing by people who know about clever marketing.

Wait a minute, traditional marketing doesn't work for ebooks! (according to various bods who are quite convincing). John Locke, he of recent purchased review infamy, spent a substantial sum of money on traditional marketing without success. 

Whether you think his 'How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months' was a rip-off or not, he does make some interesting points. Locke's attempts to buy sales through traditional marketing methods were quite ineffective (although those bought reviews did include downloads that boosted his rankings). I don't think he really knows for sure what his watershed moment was, but Locke suggests the catalyst was when one of his blog posts went viral. The blog went crazy, sales took off, he built a mailing list of loyal followers and every subsequent new release had an eager audience.

Viral is the key. Word of mouth recommendation (word of Google?) is thought to drive e-book sales. Hey, word of mouth drives all book sales, doesn't it? When readers recommend your book and when they're looking out for your next release you have it cracked!

Like many other indie e-book authors I spend an unjustifiable amount of my time looking for the silver bullet. Countless people in groups on facebook, Goodreads and all kinds of other places are doing the same thing. Sometimes confident folk profess to know the answer.

Tag your book. Get everyone in all your groups to tag your book. Now you're in the top ten search for your tag on dot com. Does it help sales? Look at the rankings of the other top tag search books. No, it doesn't. But it can't do any harm, can it? Best take some of that snake oil.

Like your book. Get more than forty likes on your book and something wonderful will happen. You'll get a new puppy or a kitten, maybe. Loads of book sales? No. But it can't do any harm, can it?

Blog tours, author interviews, guest posts, twitter teams. They can be effective in driving up your blog traffic, that's for sure. Is there a direct correlation between blog hits and sales? No, not necessarily. I'm in a twitter team with a lady who had 5,000 blog page views last month and sold 5 books (hmm, same number 5, sounds appealing like a correlation but, if so, it's a titchy one). Another guy had a quarter of a million page views in the last few months and sales remain modest. (He's also tried every form of e-book advertising known to indie, mostly with uneconomical returns.)

Free can do it. KDP select or Smashwords. Give your baby away for nothing to those readers who scoop free books into their Kindles like panic buyers loading shopping trolleys on the eve of Armageddon. If you get coverage on the most popular free book sites you might get a glorious few seconds basking in dot com limelight (my first novel Peril was #12 in the Zon top 100 last winter for a day or two). There will be a few days when you think you've made it, until the air starts to leak out of the balloon. If you have a series of books it can help, but standalone titles get a post-free lift and then tend to fade, back down to #100,000+ rankings within a few weeks. Then a few stinging reviews from those panic buyers start to trickle in, readers who were never really your target market.

How about studying the big hitters and copying them? After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I've followed big-selling indie authors, peeking around corners on the virtual streets of our global author village, reaching out to try and fondle their coat tails and be touched by greatness. KDP Community and other forums can be interesting places to pick up the trail of the silver bullet. Successful indies sometimes share their sales figures, prompting awestruck gasps from some and monstrous envy from others. Fragments of truth slither around in snake oil as the indies scramble to pan-handle for those golden nuggets of success. The same old stuff gets thrown up - tagging, liking, review each other, buy each other, start a recommendation website. Fool's gold, mostly. (Hint: before you go charging off on a time consuming marketing escapade check the credentials of the person who suggested the endeavour.)

So what's the answer to enduring sales success? Seriously, now. Except for one hit wonders (and there have been a few that went viral), the answer is grindingly predictable: the author needs a virtual bookshelf of published titles, ideally in one or more series; professional looking covers, brand identity and recognisable as a series; great book blurbs that hook the reader; a clear and popular target genre; clean, well formatted e-book copy. Oh, and don't forget the book itself - writing that makes people want to read more by the same author. It doesn't have to be Nobel Prize winning, it has to be what your target audience wants.

Let's just check the credentials of the author of this blog post. Is Ruby Barnes a big seller? No, (although I've been know to give away a few!) Does Ruby have multiple titles published? Well, four isn't bad. I'm working on it. Are they in a series? Give me a break! Like I said, I'm working on it. Nice covers? I think so. Great blurbs? Working on it. Clear and popular genre? Yes, quirky psycho political Irish noir crime DIY pickled egg (that well known genre). Clean copy? You bet. Is the writing okay? Nine out of ten cats prefer it.

Maybe I should brew up a fresh batch of viral snake oil.

Ruby Barnes is the author of The New Author, The Crucible, The Baptist and Peril

If you've enjoyed reading Ruby's blog then please sign up to Ruby's News for freebies, advance review copies of upcoming novels and occasional updates. Thanks!