Monday, 7 November 2011


What the (long unprintable sequence) should I start a blog for?!
   The history of the world shows that even an irate, ill-mannered, question can be a good one. Blogging. Isn’t that just writing letters via electricity? As with Chairman Mao’s view on the impact of the French Revolution, it’s too soon to tell.
   What is this blog about? Well, what’s anything about? A blog about the blog itself would transform into a frumious creature determined to swallow its own tail. I was told I should start a blog, as…I was doing that anyway. Really?
   Is that what I’ve been doing? Blogging without realising. Offline blogging – oh, writing letters. Blogging. Sounds awfully like logging with some unspecified edible component thrown in. Logging thoughts on the web, web-logging, is not new…not even to me, if you adopt the stance that writing letters is a low-watt version of the same damned thing.
   Well, kiddies. It is new to me. I will lie and say that I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, from the sixteenth century, where I was more than comfortable with the cutting-edge concept of the vellum download…and I’ve been dumped here, to talk about my non-book. A book not made of paper.
   It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that an unpublished author in search of an electronic audience must blog. Is that the case? No, of course not. And yet…the only entrepreneur who ever sold anything from the bottom of a well was the well-bottom megaphone salesman. It’s a niche market, but he’s getting by.
   I’m here to talk about my writing. That’s what this blog is about. My own mini-advertising campaign, serving two purposes. This blog kicks off in the pre-publication stage. I’m going to release a book on Amazon Kindle. It’s called Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords. Check out the cover. I’ll say a few words about design, before I say a few words about the words.
   The earliest version of the cover was in blue from top to bottom. One of the major design considerations, when thinking of putting out an electronic book, involves coping with the nature of the shop window. In the case of Kindle, that’s an Amazon window.
   Amazon’s window is white. The Amazon page itself is packed with white space. For that reason, the recommendation is that covers shouldn’t be white themselves. A white cover on a white background simply fades into the snowy wasteland.
   Knowing that, why would I hack away at the top part of the cover, creating white space, destroying the solid blue rectangle? I wanted the book to be noticed. Does that mean I was a little devious in altering the design? Perhaps. The title is something that customers should be interested in. Clear? Easy to read? Curious about?
   All three, naturally. I grasped the last point in line and shook it by the scruff. Curiosity. If potential customers want title clarity when straining to check out a thumbnail view, then they can always click on the product’s thumbnail for a larger view. Reeling them in. So the perfect cover design may not be the perfect cover design, after all. (I want the book to be noticed for its writing, not its cover.)
   The author’s name is the written part that should be clearest, on the cover. Reaching over to gander at a copy of Santorini, I see Alistair MacLean’s name takes up a MONUMENTAL amount of space. In gold, no less.
   Is the title going to sell the book? Possibly. The author’s name should, once the author is a known quantity. Who draws the short straw? The publisher. Wisely, the publisher of a hardback or paperback book knows that it is foolish to festoon the cover with an all-devouring company logo.
   Customers don’t normally buy books based on choice of publisher. Oh, I’m sure it happens. In some arcane way that I am struggling to contemplate. Now I’m picturing a fan, purchasing Marvel comics alone. Though I suspect the fan is interested in the setting run by Marvel, rather than Marvel as a publishing entity. As the publisher of my book, I get away with prominent display twice over.
   The cover is set up. Now I wax all nostalgic, and long for a rear cover I know I won’t create. For I am not publishing paper. Paperless data is my thing, as an electronic publisher. Would it serve any purpose, shoving a rear cover into an e-book? Well, it could be made to serve a purpose. Once upon a time, a rear cover served as inspiration.
   Though not quite in the design-sense. I’d have to be doing something dreadfully wrong to muck up my name on front and rear covers. See the 1963 Fontana paperback imprint of MacLean’s novel, FEAR IS THE KEY. Or the novel by McLean, if you’re reading the blurb on the back cover.
   When I spotted that inconsistency, I knew I’d most likely find the right spelling on the copyright notice page. Not true. The work was © to some shady cove named Gilach. Which brings me right the way round to Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords.
   There are many characters in the story. You might look on the main character as Gilach Mac Gilach. (I’m sure Sorcha will have her fans, clamouring to have her take that title. By force. Whether necessary or not.) Should I have called him MacLean? I’d already done that in a story – slim*thriller. Twice over, as there are two MacLeans in that tale.
   Inconsistency spotted on a rear cover led to the naming of a character. This is background material of potential interest to blog readers. I’m plugging the book, before it is out. But I feel that I must do more than just plug the book in a robotic manner. (Penny for the starving scribbler.)
   I insist on wondering if I’ve done the right thing in setting up the cover that way. Looking at the cover image, size of a thumbnail as it would appear on an Amazon page, I like the notion that I can just make out the title. Generating curiosity. The end of the blade is cropped deliberately.
   In throwing off the shackles of the vellum download, I’ve concluded, as I type, that I’ve come to like this blog for its place in space and time. Perhaps I’ll be forced to change the cover back to its solid blue rectangular state. Before publication, before sales, before customer feedback, there is the blog. Setting out some of the steps I took to reach this point. Self-publishing, I’m blade-keen to learn by doing. Judging a book by its look is up to you.
   I have studiously avoided mentioning the plot. Check out the blurb and sample. Sample, you say? What, you’ve written words that you’re not charging money to access? True. The Amazon Kindle format is set up to give a sample to potential customers in any case. Try before you buy.
   As long as I’m not providing a sample larger than the one given away by Amazon, I’m not hurting my business. Further thought? Even if I did provide a sample a bit larger than Amazon’s taster did, I doubt I’d be hurting my business.
   Taste. What of the customer who doesn’t care for the sample? A potential punter who doesn’t like the story may think of a friend who might. Many large bookshops encouraged casual browsing by dotting chairs and sofas around the shelves. Sauce for the paper-selling goose certainly applies to the digital-selling gander.
   What is worth saying about the nature of my fiction in this pre-publication blog? That I’m a fan of flashbacks, stories within stories, twists upon twists, deliberate mistakes that turn out to have deeper meaning on further reading, ambiguity in motive, motive in ambiguity…
   And I’m definitely a fan of the view that a writer should know how it ends.
   Once you know how your story ends, you are in a position to write in any order you please. Start at the end, have a flashback to the middle, and work your way around to the beginning. If you want to write that way. I know how the story ends. After I’ve worked that out, it’s just a matter of typing and not falling asleep at the wheel. If you’ll pardon the wild swish of images.
   Always know how it ends. Some writers never work that way, and the work works out in the end just the same. Not how I tackle the problem, but good for scribblers who do. I fall somewhere between those who plan novels as though orchestrating an assault on the Normandy beaches, and the writers who are stunned when they meander to a conclusion that must have come from someone else’s fevered scuba-conscious…so freeform is their approach. No matter your method of writing, knowing the end or not, I’ll emphasise this…
   Always know when it’s finished.
   Kipling makes the poetic comment that every single way of telling stories is right. (In the Neolithic Age, 1895.) If you are the sort of writer who scribbles away not knowing how it will end, that’s your business and that’s just fine by me. I’m not blogging to piss people off, or to please them. Two important points of note to potential bloggers.
   Though I’m likely to piss off some and please others, I cleave to the view that I don’t care what people think of my work. Did you buy it? Yes. Good. Did you buy it? No. Would you like to buy it? Amazon does free samples…
   Back to my work. Flogging by blogging. Another thing you’ll find, as these stories emerge, blinking, into the electronic daylight, is that I deliberately repeat images across books. Doesn’t matter what the setting is. Little things, here and there. Some major themes. A few names. The marketing people will tell you this builds brand-awareness, or consumer-familiarity. (Which, if taken too far, presumably breeds consumer-contempt.) I’m just telling stories, folks.
   This blog is powered by the memory of listening to Alistair Cooke on his weekly radio broadcasts for the BBC. (I was sorely tempted to open with the phrase good evening.) In 1997, Cooke observed that the manual typewriter was viewed as impersonal when it strode onto the world stage. Authors eyed the typewriter warily, and spent the first fifty years of its existence getting to grips with the beast. Blogging managed to take off and gain acceptance over a somewhat shorter period.
   How long should a blog be? I thought I’d try a minimum of 1,500 words. Long enough to say something. Not too long to be classed as a novel by stealthy blogging means. Are there any rules for bloggers? Blogging etiquette? I suspect there are certain inviolable codes. Who knows, I might even discover I’ve shattered a few of those as I blog along.
   You should start a blog.
   And with that, I started a blog.



  1. I'm excited that you're blogging!

    "Is that what I’ve been doing? Blogging without realising. Offline blogging – oh, writing letters."

    Yes! I think that letters are much like blog posts, but meant only for one, or a few people, where blog posts are (usually) meant for anyone who cares to look.

  2. Thanks Karen. I'll get back to you shortly with a sawn-off version of the curmudgeonly interview, for your blog. Really struggled to return that favour by asking you loads of interview questions. Came up with one. It was rubbish. ;)

  3. I sure it was brilliant and illuminated the darkest parts of the human psyche.

    Actually, perhaps it's better that you not ask ... ;)


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