I’m a little overwhelmed

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Every now and again, something, or someone, comes along and makes the sun shine a little brighter.

I don’t know Marcus Case, author of “The Bomb Makers” – at least, I didn’t until he commented on my recent Guest Author post on Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog that he was reading my novel, Singled Out. I always hold my breath when someone sticks their head over the parapet and admits to having picked up a copy of Singled Out on the strength of a blog post or a recommendation by someone else. Sales are still only in double figures (I’m close to that third figure, very close…) and every single reader – and their opinion and feedback – matters. I don’t know if that will ever change, but my guess is that sales would have to be deep into five or maybe even six figures before it does. Optimism, eh?

There’s always the possibility when someone fesses up to reading your novel, that they find as they dig into it that it’s not to their taste. What happens then? You might get negative feedback of course, but equally likely is that they’d just go quiet and you’d have to forget you ever heard from them in the first place. For as long as I hold my breath waiting on a reader’s opinion, there’s fear niggling away at the back of my mind. Will they like the story, or not? Will they get it? Will they want to tell me what they thought, either way, or will they evaporate into the ether leaving me with just one conclusion – that they hated it. Or perhaps worse, that they were indifferent to it.

This week I was lucky. My wait was short. Marcus Case ploughed through Singled Out in just a few days.

I only mention this as he has been generous enough to write the kind of 5-star review that stops an author in their tracks and then upload it to Amazon UK and USA and Goodreads. In his review, he makes some observations that no one else has yet made. They caused me to look at my story differently. I was struck by what he said, not just because he said a lot of very nice things; but because of what made me realise about my own writing.

This review made me walk a little taller. And it teased that still small dream, that one day those sales figures might, perhaps, possibly climb into that far distant five or six figure universe. Maybe.

So thank you, Marcus Case, for your review, and for making the sun shine a little brighter for me yesterday. Thank you indeed.

Is a 1 Star Review ever OK?

audiobookIf you’re a successful mainstream author with a string of big-selling, award-winning traditionally published books and hundreds of 5 Star reviews to your name, does a 1 Star Review still bother you?

I’m ploughing through the audiobook of a well known literary novel at the moment and I’m struggling with it. This book has sold in its millions, won awards and even been made into a film – a dream-ticket for an author. But it has divided critics and readers. Many have hailed it, but a significant number have just not got it.

And I’m one of them.

I tried reading this novel a few years ago but didn’t make it past the first third. The audiobook was my attempt to make the ‘reading’ process easier and to be fair the narration is largely excellent. But it’s a long and convoluted narrative and it’s leaving me with the feeling that the emperor has no clothes.   I know I’m not alone in this thinking, but I am in a minority.

I rate books on Goodreads with stars (mainly to prompt conversations with my reader friends), but I write very few reviews either on Amazon or Goodreads. I tend only to review self-published and small-imprint published books, on the assumption that these writers – as I do – need every bit of positive endorsement and feedback they can muster. I would never write a 1 Star review of such a book. If I read one that I disliked that much, no one would encounter my opinion online.

But what about a mainstream, million-selling novel? Is a 1 Star review OK?

I wonder if this particular author still reads their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I wonder, with all the success the author has enjoyed, whether they care a jot when the occasional reader fails to appreciate this novel. Given that so many credible sources have endorsed it, does it matter when the odd reader has such a negative response to their literary endeavours that they pen a review layered with peevish criticism, or worse?

On balance, I think it probably doesn’t matter to an author in that position. But I can’t be sure.

Reviews exist to help other readers decide whether to buy. In that respect you could argue that all reviews are relevant – and oddly, I wouldn’t disagree. Quite apart from anything else, I really value reading other people’s 1 Star reviews of books I’m contemplating reading. Occasionally they will dissuade me and I can thank the writers of those reviews for redirecting me.

However, I doubt another 1 Star review on top of the mountain of plaudits which exist for this particular novel, would make the least difference to anyone considering a purchase. So for that reason alone, it seems a waste of my time to pen a review.

But the truth is broader; I’m an author as well as a reader, and I simply can’t do it to a fellow author, whoever they are and however successful they are. I just don’t want to be so publicly unappreciative of anyone’s writerly endeavours.

I realise this is perverse of me. I know I’m saying I want to benefit from other people’s 1 Star reviews, yet not offer up my own.

That’s how it is – I just can’t do it.

So how do you see it?

Read any good books lately?

book-520626_1280I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too…

Even though I try and keep up with what’s going on in the world of fiction, good books still pass me by. A friend will say, ‘Have you read such-and-such?’ and I’ll not have heard of it. It’s not surprising, given how many books there are, but I still find myself a bit miffed that I don’t appear to have a handle on ALL the books.

That said, I thought I’d take the opportunity of a weekend blog post to introduce you to a few novels which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years. They’re all mainstream and they all got a Goodreads 5-star rating from me. But I’m pretty sure, however well-read you are, there will be one or two in this short list, which you haven’t come across before.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 of my 5-star recommended reads:

Monster Love by Carol Topolski – An extraordinarily powerful novel about a couple in love and the horrific secret they keep. Carol Topolski draws her psychologically damaged characters brilliantly. But be warned, this is not one for the faint-hearted.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer – a delightful and heart-warming story told through a series of letters, about the inventive and eccentric inhabitants of Guernsey during World War II, when the Channel Islands became the only part of the British Isles to fall under German occupation.

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes – I’m not a fan of short stories in general, but I loved this series of interrelated tales, which I first read many years ago. Julian Barnes is a master storyteller. Some argue the connectedness of the stories makes it a novel. Whatever it is, it’s a clever and engaging read.

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada – a bleak, sprawling tale of ordinary but strangely courageous lives. Set in 1940 in a fearful Berlin dominated by the Nazis. Sounds great, right? Oh, but it is. It has echoes of 1984 in the quiet revolution begun by one man. But you need to give it time to unfold.

Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn – an utterly gripping account of one night, one murder and all the people who could and should have helped to save a life, but – for all their various justifications and preoccupations – did nothing.

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks – A classic unreliable narrator and a dark tale which begins with a disappearance. In the unsettling, damaged and socially marginalised Engleby, the author creates a vivid and discomforting voice.

E by Matt Beaumont – Another epistolary novel, but this time it’s e-mails, and it’s told for laughs. A wickedly funny book set amongst the corporate climbers and back-stabbers of a London advertising agency. Read it in one sitting, but it’ll leave you with a smile on your face.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy – an old-school big lump of a book, the sort you pick up at the airport. But I loved this slowly unfolding story of a good and decent man and his family’s horrific past. The film of the book, starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand, is good. But the book goes much further, taking the reader deeper into the South Carolina low country the darkest peril.

London Fields by Martin Amis – I think this is Amis’s best book, written before he got oh, so clever with words you’ve never heard of. It’s visceral, brutal and funny all at once, and you can’t help but keep on reading. Amis’s most compelling characters are vile and depraved, but great on the page.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce – I loved this touching and poignant tale; two parallel stories, one of a boyhood friendship and the other of a damaged man dealing with mental illness. Books don’t often make me cry, but this one did. The title doesn’t particularly connect with the story, but the book is… Perfect.

So there you are. If you’re stuck for a good read this weekend, take a look at one or two of those.

By the way, you can find me on Goodreads here, where I’m always thrilled to connect with fellow readers.

Am I allowed to blow my own trumpet?

SINGLED OUT is garnering one or two reviews – and they’re making me feel properly humble.

trumpetMy debut psychological suspense novel, Singled Out, launched on 1st February. There are one or two very fast readers out there and I’m thrilled that they’re already taking the time and trouble to leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Reviews are the life-blood of the indie author. Without them, we cannot hope to move beyond sales to our family, friends and few loyal blog followers. Reviews draw in readers from much further afield.  So I’m very, very grateful to those readers who have already left a review… and to any readers who, in due course, plan to do the same.

I hope it’s not bad manners or in horribly bad taste to do this, but I want to share one early review in particular with you. Will you indulge me? It’s from Carrie Rubin, author and fellow blogger at The Write Transition. She posted these generous words to Amazon.com and Goodreads. Happily, Amazon.co.uk appears to have tracked and reposted to the UK site too:

Singled Out explores the relationships that develop between a group of people on a singles’ vacation in Turkey. Brenda, a fantastic character and my new favorite heroine (such a cool lady!), forays out on her own for the trip while dealing with a personal issue she must come to terms with. But her life soon becomes intertwined with the others at the vacation resort, and she finds herself caught up in something she’d rather not be. What follows is a great combination of who-dunit and psychological suspense.

The writing in this debut novel is impressive with descriptions so rich, you’ll feel like you’re touring, sunbathing, and feasting on delicious meals in Turkey yourself. Mystery cloaks every page, and answers are doled out in a page-turning manner. But a caution to sensitive readers–the subject matter deals with sexual assault (that’s not a spoiler as the opening scene depicts this) and misogyny, sometimes in quite graphic detail. Normally I would shy away from material like that, but I felt comfortable in the author’s hands given the strong female lead who carries the novel, and the important message that’s unveiled.

An impressive debut novel for fans of psychological suspense. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

What else can I say, but Thank You, Carrie – I am immensely touched by your words.

Long, slow, deep breaths…

Singled Out is today officially launched and available to buy (on Kindle and in paperback) from Amazon

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxIt seems as if I’ve been doing this for ever… writing, editing, writing some more, editing some more, fiddling about on KDP, messing around on CreateSpace, checking and re-checking proofs… and all the while, taking deep, calming breaths.

But it’s finally done. As of this morning, 1st February, Singled Out is online, live, and available to purchase from Amazon – for your Kindles or for your bookshelves.

If you’ve become interested in the story of Singled Out over the last few months – the writing of it, or the few teasing nuggets which have found their way into this blog – you might feel like checking it out:

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Singled-Out-Julie-Law…/…/B00RO1GH28/

USA: http://www.amazon.com/Singled-Out-Julie-Lawfo…/…/1505207517/

If over the coming days, weeks or months you should happen to purchase Singled Out; and if you should happen to enjoy the read, know that nothing would make me happier than if you chose to leave a review on Amazon, or Goodreads (or even both). Reviews and word-of-mouth are the tools by which indie authors gain their audiences.  Feedback is all part of the adventure.

It’s also the reason I’ll be holding my breath…

Not so Singled Out after all: A lesson learned

How many books share the same title as mine? What, HOW many?

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxWay back, perhaps three years ago, when I began thinking about a title for Singled Out, I did a search on Amazon. At the time, Amazon determined there was just one other book with the same title. It was a non-fiction account of the two million single women left to fend for themselves after the First World War. I figured since this was so different from my own book, I could stand to share the name.

In retrospect (what a wonderful thing is hindsight), I should have checked once or twice more in the intervening months. If I had, I might have reconsidered.

I actually love my title and I believe it works for the book as it references the story in more than one way. I’ve been wedded to it since I first thought of it. Up until that point, Singled Out operated under the working title of SHN (that stood for Singles Holiday Novel – a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin private reference destined only for my MSWord folder and file structure).

But I wasn’t the only author to fall upon this simple, easily remembered moniker in the last three years. For now, as I look around Amazon and Goodreads, I find there are somewhere between six and twelve books in the English language under the same title (plus subtitle or part number in some cases). I haven’t been through them to see what they’re all about, but they seem to be a mix of fiction and non-fiction (mainly relationship and religious advice). Common sense tells me more will follow.

The self-publishing universe has exploded in the last three years – I’ve only fully acknowledged this in recent months myself. I confess, I have not once considered the possibility that my chosen title might have been quite so liberally deployed by other writers in the intervening months.

I’m not kicking myself for choosing this title, as I do feel it’s right for my story. I’m kicking myself for not appreciating in time, the pace at which the landscape has changed.

The fact is, short, snappy titles are unlikely to be original these days. Even the more creative and imaginative titles may eventually be taken up by others. So the challenge for the author – it’s one I’m happy to accept – is to distinguish themselves in other ways; through visual branding (a well-designed cover), their author profile, web site and blogging, wider social media presence and so on – so that no potential reader accidentally buys the ‘wrong’ book.