To download or not to download

Recently my book – which has been out in paperback for a few weeks now, was turned into a download. You can now get it on Kindle here.

As well as the old-fashioned dead tree way here.

I’m not sure how I feel about it – pleased still of course, that the book is out at all, that I have a publisher in Skylight Press out there doing their best for it and caring about it as much as I do. But in terms of the fancy new Kindle version – how do I feel about that? It’s the future I know, no doubt at all about that. It would take someone who was a bit of a Luddite these days to be a download denier – and that’s certainly not me.

So I’m glad to have the book out in this format – and I certainly see the advantages of it. The portability of the devices, the almost instant access to a whole library of books.

I also think that anything which not only preserves, but reinvigorates reading and the novel has to be a good thing. It has to be a living, breathing art form, the moment it lapses into becoming a museum piece then it’s doomed.

Finally, I like the way that downloads, and that means Kindle right at the moment, have already led to a publishing revolution allowing authors who do not have a publisher to take their destiny in their own hands and do it themselves. This reminds me of the early days of punk rock – or of indie bands. The self-sufficiency they had, the DIY ethic, led to some brilliant music and a voice for people who would not otherwise have been heard.

The same thing is happening in fiction now I think – different voices, ones which might not have made it into print, have managed to side-step the publishing system and find a platform for their work.

So two cheers for downloads then. But let’s not (ahem) write-off books.

Let me say firstly, that the dream for me, the one I’d had since childhood, was to have a book published – one I could hold in my hand, put on my bookshelf – one that had the feel and smell and yes, romance, of a book. I didn’t dream of a download.

But that might be more to do with the fact I have grown up with books. A new generation may well be following hard on my heals who dream of switching on their Kindle, swiping their fingers across the screen and having their name pop up on the illuminated display.

Times change after all. But my key worry isn’t about the downloads themselves – more about what they can lead to. Once things are available on digital format it seems to me that their value starts to plummet.

Look at music – digital piracy has decimated that industry. Look at movies, going the same way. There used to be a newspaper industry – I used to work in it. Now because so much news is available free on the internet the market has set the value of news at near zero.

I don’t want the same fate to befall printed fiction.

Already I am hearing horror stories from fellow authors about their downloads being pirated and stolen. Most authors are paid little for their work even when the system is working – if it breaks down they are in real trouble.

So I’m delighted to have my book out on Kindle – thrilled by it – and I really value those readers who choose to buy Song of the Sea God in that way.

But my hope is that the download revolution doesn’t issue in an era when books are thought of as ‘freeware’ available to all without any payment to those who have worked hard to produce them.

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Sign here

So – I’ve just had my first book signing. That was quite a posh moment, made me feel like a proper author.

If you weren’t able to make it you can get the book from Waterstones online here

And the Kindle version here.

The signing was at Waterstones in Gloucester, where I live. Waterstones is more or less the only show in town as far as bookshops go in most British towns these days. All the little independent ones have gone the way of the dodo and I would guess that even the mighty Waterstones is feeling the pinch what with the online revolution and the march of downloads.

Who knows, in a few years there may not be any bookshops to do signings in, or any books to sign.

But for now there is a Waterstones on every high street with its tables piled high with best sellers and its Costa coffee franchise. When you walk through the door of one you smell the unmistakable scent of new books.  So I was able to spend a Saturday afternoon sitting behind a small pile of my books with Rebsie from my publisher on hand for moral support.

It’s a curious experience this book signing business. Basically you are sat watching people do their shopping. Though I am of course keen to sell copies of my book I don’t feel it’s right to go up to people who aren’t interested and pester them – I wouldn’t want someone badgering me if I was shopping. So I waited for people to come to me – and thankfully quite a few did.

One or two mistook me for a member of staff and wanted me to tell them where the John Grishams were, but most wanted to talk about Song of the Sea God which was great. You really do need a quick way of describing your work in this situation I’ve found – it’s no use coming over all coy and saying it’s too complex to sum up in a few words – people want to know what it’s about. So I have my elevator pitch ready. I tell them it’s about a man who washes up on a small island off the coast of Britain and tries to convince the local people he is a god.

The people I talked to were very receptive and it was a fun experience – plus I sold a few copies which was great. As well as wanting to know what the book was about they asked a bit about me – where I was from, what I do for a proper job, have I written anything else, and so on. I’m quite chatty, which helps I guess, and I enjoyed the whole thing more than I expected to. With any luck I’ll get to do it again!

How to get 5000 followers on Twitter – without paying a penny!

Different sort of blog post this one as it is neither reading nor writing related, but I just thought it might be useful to people.

Song of the Sea God visualIf you are passing by don’t forget to check out my book Song of the Sea God on Amazon, where you can read the first few pages, here.

I’m fond of Twitter and, like many people, I have been bombarded by those spammers promising me 5000 followers on Twitter if I only hand over some cash. Well, the fact is, I am lucky enough to have more than 5,000 followers on Twitter @chilledch and I didn’t pay anyone a penny to get them. Instead I built up followers using a few simple rules which you could use too if you wanted to build up a Twitter following.

These would be useful to beginners I would say – and those who have a few followers but are hoping to find more. Here they are – and free to you for being kind enough to drop by my blog:

Show your face

It’s much easier to get Twitter followers if people can see what you look like – so make sure you have a picture of your face on there. Definitely not the egg you start off with and not book covers or other ‘branding’ either. Just you.

This is tough if you are tweeting for a company of course, but if it’s your personal account make the most of it, and make it personal – people follow people.

Profile

I think the few words you say about yourself should be to the point and aimed at encouraging the sort of people you would like to have follow you. Some people go for whimsy or humour, and good luck to them. I think if you are a writer, or an artist or whatever, say so – then people know who they are following!

Follow Back

This is such a simple thing – but so many people don’t do it. I follow back everyone who is not a spammer, porn account, random corporate account or obvious nutcase. The vast majority of people who follow me get a swift follow back to show I value their interest in me.

Follow others

This is a key point. Some people on Twitter who are trying to build a following seem to adopt the Field of Dreams ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach. It doesn’t work. Unless you are a celeb of some sort people are not going to flock to you – you have to find them. If you are looking for people with similar interests to you then you will already know where to find them. When I was looking for readers and fellow writers I looked at follower lists for accounts such as Guardian Books and New York Times Books for example. Then I followed those people in large numbers.

I love them but they don’t love me

Ok – so you have followed lots of people, but only a small proportion of them have followed you back. At first this isn’t such a problem, but once you are following 2000 Twitter won’t let you add any more unless the number of people who follow you is more or less as high. Yet here you are with just 500 followers and you are up to your 2000 following limit – what do you do?

Well, you ditch some people who haven’t followed you back of course. You could just go down your list and trim them – but there are free tools out there on t’internet to help you. Try who.unfollowed.me and justunfollow for example. Have a play around with them and you will find they help you cut the people who have not bothered to follow you back.

Churn

When you’ve lost some dead wood start following more people – a proportion of those will follow you back. Repeat the process. Your number of followers will grow without the number you follow getting out of hand.

Tweet!

While you are doing this don’t forget what Twitter is really all about. Engage with people, have fun. Answer other people’s questions and join in with their jokes. Ask your own questions. If you are plugging something, as I am with my book (Song of the Sea God, available from all good retailers), make sure that this is just a part of what you do. People will follow you and stick with you if you make it worth their while.

Hope this has been useful – it worked for me!

If you were interested in this post you might want to take a look at these others which also offer tips:

Part two of my Twitter tips here

How to get more views on your blog.

Advice on how to find a publisher for your book

An interview with my publisher about what they are looking for in a book they take on.

First reviews

The first reviews are starting to come in on Amazon now for Song of the Sea God – and thank you to the readers out there who are taking the time and trouble to say what they think about the book.

You can see the reviews, and read the first few pages of the book here.

And readers in the USA can get it on Barnes and Noble here.

There were a couple of comments that I particularly related to from the reviews.

One was that the novel has a strong sense of place.

I’ve already said my piece about the book being set on Walney Island in the north-west of England where I grew up – but not really. I took the liberty of using the island’s geography for my own purposes but making it the place I needed it to be and populating it with my own characters. So it’s not Walney – but  having that island in my head helped me massively in writing the book.

I’ve always been fond of books which do ‘sense of place’ well. It’s very important I think, it adds to the richness of the reading experience. Here’s my tip for a book which does this brilliantly – Waterland by Graham Swift. It’s masterful and beautiful. The place, in this case The Fens, percolates through the whole book and influences the characters, the action, everything. I would recommend the book to you if you have not read it. If I have achieved a fraction of what Swift did in Waterland on my island then I am a happy writer.

Another comment which made me very chuffed was that Sea God was refered to as a ‘page turner’.

That’s a particularly pleasing thing to hear about a literary novel. I had in my mind that I wanted to preserve the depth and the quality of writing that readers of literary fiction demand and expect, while at the same time making sure the book held the reader with its story.

I wanted to create a literary novel with the pace and plot of a thriller. Which, I accept, is a bit like wanting your cake and eating it. Did I come somewhere near succeeding? I would be delighted if you read the book and let me know.

Internationally unknown

One of the unexpected, and delightful, spin-offs from the recent publication of my debut novel is that people can buy it all over the world – what’s more, in modest numbers, they are doing just that.

The book, Song of the Sea God, is available on Amazon where you can read the first few pages to see if it’s your kind of thing here.

It’s also on Barnes and Noble for American readers here.

In as much as I’d thought at all about who might read the book I had assumed they would be readers from the UK – but I wasn’t counting on the social media revolution which means that now, readers of the book are as likely to be from Tennessee as Tunbridge Wells.

It’s been a delight for me that kind and generous book-lovers in far-flung parts, people who have come across me on Twitter and Facebook and here on this blog, have taken a look at Sea God and decided that it’s for them.

It’s a curious thrill to think people are sitting down to read the words I wrote in parts of the world I have never visited. Let’s face it, my book is better travelled than I am.

I’m not just an unknown author in this country – I’m internationally unknown.

What these non domestic readers will make of Sea God is anybody’s guess. I sincerely hope they like it. I suppose in many ways it’s quite a British book. Not only because it was written by a British person but because the setting is clearly in Northern England. The language in the book is slangy and colloquial in a way which might either confuse or delight a reader from the USA or Australia, depending how open they are to voices they don’t normally hear.

If you are the sort of person who, for example, claims not to be able to understand anyone from ‘abroad’ because they have a funny accent then Sea God is probably not for you. My book has a funny accent.

If on the other hand, you are the sort of open-minded character who is willing to go with the flow, accept things which are different and read in an intuitive way then there’s a good chance you will get it. Yours is the world, and everything that’s in it, and what is more, you are my kind of reader.

Let me know what you think about Song of the Sea God, I would be delighted to hear from you!