The Starguard News

The Starguard News

Closure of Blog for Facebook group

by ray burke on 09/10/17

The blog will be closing down. As they are the posts are duplicated on the Facebook Group with more commentary and pictures (which can't be posted here), I've taken the decision to soley use the Facebook Group page to post news and threads. Please feel free to join the group. Cheers:

UCL Connect: Publishing - Careers In the Digital Age

by ray burke on 04/29/17

Thursday April 27th

Alumni event at the London Review Bookshop. The speakers were Diane Banks, founder of Diane Banks Associates agency; Nick Coveney, Digital Marketing Director at Knect365; and author Irene Sabatini.

In the shadow of the British Museum, we devoted alumni wanting to get advice on writing and publishing collected in the bookshop, surprisingly bigger once inside. The night was started off by Irene. Born in Zimbabwe, her career started off while she was living in Switzerland. She attended a book conference and asked a question of one of the panelist who was intrigued enough to ask for a sample of her work. She talked about the fairytale aspects of her career as her work was sought after by the agent and though it didn't get published she kept in touch with the agent who ultimately got her next book published (The Boy Next Door) and won an Orange Award for New Writers.

Her advice or her biggest challenges: have a thick skin, you'll be rejected a lot. Be flexible, have fortitude, and persistence. And most importantly, move on to the next book if this one does not sell. You're a writer and you have to keep writing and leave your literary 'darlings' behind if they don't work.

Diane spoke of her experience in the industry. Her advice was more on contracts and what writers would expect upon being published. Elements should be separate so UK and Commonwealth rights should be the main rights offered by the publisher. A writer should retain or control their rights to other foreign markets, so US, India and Australia, etc should be separate, audio, TV/film and any apps as well should be retained by the author. I'm sure contracts are different but it was interesting information.

Nick is now out of publishing, but during his time from 2010, he worked at Hodder when the first Kindles and tablets were introduced and his bosses had no idea of how to use them in the industry or how they could influence the market. He also had a fact (remembered imperfectly, but probably close) that 80% of best seller books are only by 15% of books, so the market is skewed a bit.

Irene and Diane then answered a question about advances. There is quite a range from say £1000s to £50k and above. It depends on the company, their size and resources. Do you want a large company and advance where your book could get lost or a smaller more bespoke company to curate the book. The payments schedules may also differ with halves and quarterly payments the usual schedule.

One thing that did resonate was Diane's statement that even while writers worry about rejections, agents get rejected as well trying to sell your work to publishers. Not something we think about.

Then after questions there was wine and snacks and networking. I spoke to a few other attendees. Carol was from Brighton and had written a book about the digital age and women harassed and attacked through digital means. We'll be staying in touch so hope I can spread the word for her and her husband loves sci-fi. I think she'll self-publish. Then I met a lawyer who the first thing she did when I gave her a bookmark was to fold it in half. Folks, that ain't a booklover! Geez! Diane's agency does not cover sci-fi. Then I spoke to 2 of the staff. They have a smattering of sci-fi books in the shop but one was an enthusiastic sci-fi reader and recommended Frederick Pohl. And I gave them a bookmark. Carol and I took pic of each other outside and off we went to our merry ways after a few glasses of red.

An interesting night and I learned a bit more than I had at the London Book Fairs.

London Book Fair Day 3

by ray burke on 03/19/17

Thurs Mar 16th

Ah, finally, the good news. My bookmarks had arrived. I had to change printers as the first company just used templates which my work wouldn't fit. I do kind of have old software on my laptop which is a bit of a barrier to formatting but I finally found a good company with StressFree Printing. Love the bookmarks, but can improve the back a bit by making fonts bigger. So I was armed with 250 of the blighters and left a few on the train as well. As Dave said, everyone has a card, which can be thrown away, but everyone needs a bookmark. And it's another part of my brand! Speaking of which...

I thought the next talk would have been chock full of ideas:

11:45 - Building Your Author Brand.

Katie Roden, a publishing, marketing and content strategist spoke about different ways to build, increase an author brand. I didn't find it very helpful. It was a hodge podge of intricate and technical details with advice to use media maps to see how people use apps and other platforms. There's Ofcom data to see reader information, which will tell you the obvious that reading on phones is up and on paper down. Next was to live our readers' lives - as if authors are not also readers - and to retain the hardcore readers while capturing curious and casual readers with advice like 'learn to play online games to understand your readers who play such games' (Well no, I don't play games and I'm sure I can connect with a game-players in other ways. Why take away my writing time to play games for an extra reader!) There was advice for female writers to join mum groups (whether they have a kid or not) so they can gain readership from them, even to the point of sharing ovulation and birth dates! It was too contrived for me.

Apparently, an average person can read 250 wpm, so can finish a 100,000 word novel in 5.33 hours! This is so if we have a series of or multiple books, readers would want to binge read such linked books rather than opt for an author with a solitary book! And, obvious, but rarely adhered to in Twitter is the constant selling of books/services. It should be about 80% connecting, 20% selling, and softly at that. Lastly, there was price experimentation. See what works for the product, whether a high price for the quality or a niche product or a lower cost to entice readers and encourage them to spread the word. Overall the branding advice was either too over-thought or too obvious.

As I arrived at the talk a bit late standing outside of Author HQ, I looked for familiar faces and saw Dave working away as usual - the Tweet King!

I took a leaf from his page and also pictured companies I've worked with so I could tweet their praises and get any follows or comments, which I did. So thanks to Nielsen (all books are listed with them, plus I bought my ISBNs from them), Gardners (distributors), and Ingram (Lightning Source printers).

Another Dave tactic was the 'cheeky marketing'. Seeing a briefcase and table full of fake money, I asked the guys there if I could put my book by it and take photos. They told me to fill my boots. So thanks to Britannia International who were promoting their new book on the BCCI scandal.

14:00 - 16:00 - Last Author HQ session of the fair was The Write Stuff, the Dragon's Den-style panel where 6 pre-selected authors would pitch to 3 agents. The winner could then pick which agent they wanted. In a nutshell, the authors had books about Syrian refugees, children escaping WWII Germany, an Indian Jane Austen-type book, a Moldovan 'magic realism' story, a Scottish Highlands Desperate Housewives, and the overall Winner 'Help, My Mother Has Cancer!' a real and humerous account of the other bits you don't hear about cancer sufferers and survivors! Well-deserved win.

After Author HQ, I gave a book mark to an agent before leaving and she was quite taken with it, so perhaps she'll follow up and take a look at the book. Plus on my final way out I gave 2 books away to sci-fi friendly staff at the receptions of Atlantic Books and MacMillan. Hopefully they'll leave reviews or maybe even mention it around the office.

Now criminally, I have not mentioned one person, nor got a pic of her even though we sat through the Write Stuff together, and is a de facto member of the Rat Pack, Finnish author Helena Halme. I met her through David and ALLi last year. Hopefully I can rectify that as she's a great help with info on writer societies, other authors, and networking. And I do plan on joining the Writers' Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)

There was a final meet up with Anita Williams and her friend and a Twitter follower Soulla Christodoulou for a group pic.

Then it was my turn to make believe I'm in front of the masses waxing lyrically about my books. One day, folks, one day!

After, the Rat Pack reunited and wound up in the Hand and Flower pub. I'm sure we were sitting by TV psychologist Emma Kenny, but the other guys weren't convinced. And as a companion to my burrito a few nights prior, this time I had a very nice falafal wrap by candle light! Then it was time to say our goodbyes and goodbye to LBF for another year! Thanks for the memories :-)

London Book Fair Day 2

by ray burke on 03/19/17

Day 2 - Weds March 15

I was a bit delayed getting in, but met Dave who was going to visit his publishers Austin Macauley. Dave is featured in their brochure and on their posters. He's been travelling the country on Waterstones book signings. Check him out in your area next time!

We spent time walking around as I wanted to check out publishers and also possible sponsors for my 'secret project'! But unfortunately most of the people I talked to worked on academic projects. David then led me to Falcon Oast, who had a marvelous book mountain built from their client's books. If you correctly guessed how many books comprised the mountain you would win a hamper of wine, other drinks, cheeses and jams/chutneys. I guessed 720 books (which apparently was a good guess). We left our emails on our cards as a contact I case we won. Don't look like we have!

We walked around some more taking pics down the main drag before I got to my first event:

12:45 Genre Spotlight - Science Fiction and Fantasy. Ian Drury, Jo Fletcher, and Ed McDonald spoke about the usual trends and issues which rear their heads - worldbuilding, info-dumps (which I have been and probably still am and guilty of committing), and 'magical' technology. But we authors have to remember that such devices and worlds serve the story and not the other way around. Character and plot come first no matter how pretty the world is or how awesome the technology is.

Jo made point about magic in books. You don't have to describe every aspect of it, but dole details out throughout the book. Ed talked about 'grim-dark' trends in fantasy works, the anti-hero/boy-to-king stories, and handling multi-character books (for some reason I didn't take too many notes here so specific details forgotten :-()

13:45 - The Create Writing Process

With chair Jonathan Telfer and authors CL Taylor and Rosanna Ley. So how do they write?

CL (on the right) mentioned Alexandra Sokoloff's book 'Stealing Hollywood'. It takes you through how to write screenplay-type plots making for efficient stream-lined well-paced books. She is a planner and even puts up scenes on her wall on post-its adding scenes to fill in plot gaps. She works on emotions, dialogue and the book's voice.

Rosanna added that while she writes more organically there is a certain amount of planning expanding from notes to a full book. All writing is a learning process and not all old unused ideas will be wasted, ideas can be recycled for other works.

After, a question came in from the audience regarding character perspective 1st, 2nd, 3rd person voices. CL said to avoid 'Head Hopping' (my favourite phrase of the days) to avoid confusion. Perhaps it could be used in separate chapters but not within one.

14:45 - How to Reach More Readers and Make More Money From Your Books

Orna Ross founder of ALLi chaired the meeting with author Adam Croft, digital strategist Gabriel Mercer and the lovely Joanna Penn (seriously everyone loves her!) of series.

Adam Croft had a breakout year selling over a million copies of self-published book. His secret? A change in his mindset. He got serious not just about his work, but also his entrepreneurial side, after all, self-published authors are a business in themselves. He started with Facebook ads (a la Mark Dawson). He had a hook to grab people's attention with his thrillers. Now his books sell more than JK Rowling.

Jo (who now follows me on Twitter and waved to me just after taking the picture - not that she knew me!) has published many fiction and non-fiction books, is a blogger and professional speaker on writing. She has always talked about multiple streams of books (print, audio, ebook), workbooks, boxsets and bundles, etc. She has also rebranded and relaunched her older fiction books into boxsets and with new titles, covers and pen names to seperate her fiction and non-fiction worlds, with another pen name coming soon under a different genre.

Gabriel mentioned "where our purpose is to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions. Our secondary mission is to call for change within the publishing community for better pay and fairer terms in all contracts. This is a website by authors and for authors." Cool! I took their survey to add my data. This helps authors identify where the trends and sales opportunities are. There were also Amazon writing services and KDP Select. And of course there's the huge trend of books being made into TV series.

There was time after to meet up with people I had met last year and yesterday. I got to get their pics on the second day.

Last year, I had met Anita Williams of BooksNAuthors UK. She introduced me to Anton Marks, a fellow author and a blogger. I hope to review a book for him in June, plus he's invited me for his podcast. Anita also introduced me to Nilam Ashra McGrath from Leeds who is writing a book based on her diary and notes from her PhD days about the process of writing a PhD. It's a kind of manual, self-help guide and insight into her struggles and triumphs.

On Tues, as Dave, Stephen and I sat around in the Kindle Publishing area, I decided to talk to the guy beside me - such does the book fair encourage such behaviour. He was Benjamin Smith author of Graven Vengeance. He had published through New Generation Publishing. Great guy and as we found out later we have a lot in common with our jobs even working within the same borough.

Jon-Jon and I had met last year at LBF and took a pic in front of the Ivy. We did the same this year to continue the tradition.

Before going on to the ALLi event in the Albion pub, the Ratpack made our way to Publishing Scotland where whiskey and gin was on offer. I ran into author Andrew Wallace another BSFA attendee and Laura who described her role as a 'glorified librarian'. While we were upstairs, down below the IPG (Independent Publishers Group) were having their drinks. Out of sight, by the Gardners/IPG signs is Head of Zeus Publishing. When I visited their editors weren't there but I hope to submit to them over the weekend.

Then we made our way to the very crowded and hot 1st floor of the Albion. Luckily windows were opened and buffet food served though was still crowded. Rubbing shoulders with so many other authors, publishers, agents, other industry experts is great. I do intend to follow up on the 20 or so cards collected over the 3 days. Never know where it will lead ;-)

London Book Fair Day 1

by ray burke on 03/18/17

The London Book Fair

Tues March 14th - Thurs 16th, 2017

Olympia Conference Centre

Author HQ Seminars

Day 1

As per my previous years, I had planned out the seminars and publishing stands I wanted to visit, though didn't make them all. In the Author HQ area in the 1st floor main hall, there were more seats, but the same noise and microphone issues as years previous were present. Some presenters were hard to hear or not effective speakers. I had also made sure I had my wheeled backpack with me so I didn't have to lug 6 books (for previews and handouts) and other paraphernalia on my back all day.

13:45 - Region Spotlight: America

How to increase your opportunities in the US market. Chaired by Alison Baverstock from Kingston University with speakers Porter Anderson (Editor-in-Chief Publishing Perspectives and the Hot Sheet newsletter), Philippa Donovan (SmartQuill editor), and Gail Hockman (Brandt & Hockman agent).

Porter began with trends in the US, especially novelty trends in books with audio books on the increase. He asked the audience how we published - with around 80% indy published, around 10% traditionally published (or both indy and traditional), a few weren't published/still writing. In 2015, 625,000 self-published authors had ISBNs almost the same as those without ISBNs. He also noted that it is quality, not quantity that counts with books being traditionally published, adding that since the advent of self-publishing none of the big traditionally-published authors had gone into self-publishing, but many self-published could become traditionally published. Asked about the optimism of the US publishing industry as a whole in regards to a sustainable traditionally-published world he stated it was around 8/10, but realistically it is 5/10.

Philippa championed content, better quality writing as the way to crack different markets whether in UK, US or Australia. She works in all 3 countries searching for talent to adapt to TV/film. Her talk was about the elusive aspects of finding the formula regarding what makes a best seller - the commonalities, factors, demographics, etc, but it mainly comes down to quality of the work.

Gail's company only takes on around 15 new authors per year (it's a tough gig writing!). Her point was about redrafting and making the book the best it can be as it is harder even for an agent to sell to US publishers. She finds it easier with the French, German and Japanese book fairs. Such markets further the career of an author. As an insight into an agent's mind - she reads around only 20-40 pages assessing the quality of a book so she can know and understand the characters, know the premise and the scene, know the voice, style and detail of the author and characters, and feel glued to the chair. She reads until there is reason to reject the book. But most agents know within a few pages, even the very first page. (A frightening notion!)

14:45 - How to Find and Work with a Literary Agent

Jacq Burns (Literary agent with The London Writers Club) chaired the session with speakers Jemima Forrester (David Higham), Claribel Ortega (Director of Media, Combined Book Event) and Euan Thorneycroft (AM Heath).

Jemima started off with a short spiel about what an agent does, forging an early close relationship and collaboration with her client assuring their needs are met.

Euan reinforced this stating it was a multi-faceted role as an editor, friend, seller, publisher, hand-holder, therapist (half-joking), but mainly they are there to champion their clients to publishers and to challenge both the publisher and author for their best work. The book has to be the best it can be. There are those who pitch prematurely - don't risk sending in unfinished unedited work! He split submissions into terrible work, well-written work with good ideas but which don't connect with him, and briliant work.

Claribel was an interesting character as she found her agent through Twitter!! There are various contests run on Twitter through, #DVpit. The next contest is in April. You pitch the premise of your book in a tweet and winning submissions are then chosen by different agents. She had sent out 56 queries in 4 months; her motto being 'if you don't sell this book, then sell the next one.' It was harder work even after getting an agent as there are promotional works to do, not just selling, but networking/connecting on social media. Her advice was:

1.  to have a book with a strong narrative voice.

2. To research agents and send to a specific person (Dear sir/madam letters get thrown out!)

3. keep comments positive after rejection. Positive comments from agents encourages re-editing or re-submission, or at least encouragement to keep writing.

1. Market research and define your book's USP.

2. Everyone has aspects of their self to promote.

15:45 - The Right Rights: What to Look Out for in a Good/Bad Contract

The Society of Authors' Kate Pool and Celia Rees took us through this interesting topic.

The first question asked was 'Why do you want a publisher and are your expectations realistic? Then 'Why would a publisher want you?' The good thing about self-publishing is author control. You get more royalties and keep all the control over your work. With traditional publishing you lose more control and give away more rights. In a contract, rights given include:

1. To publish a book - print, ebook, (maybe) audio - in English

2. Foreign rights and translations

3. Dramatisation, media, TV/Film

4. Academic and educational rights (depending on book content). These factors get placed into something called an aggregator.

How long does an author give away these rights: for a lifetime + 70 years! Foreign rights only last 10 years. These guarantee a first initial print run with advanced royalties.

Celia noted that the most important clause in a contract is the Termination clause. How to leave a contract. A contract can be quit if the publisher goes bust, there's a breach of contract, or if they are no longer selling the book.

Further, if a publisher makes editorial changes, they should send the proof to the author to approve any changes. There may also be options on book sequels - a book deal or a first option to them. If not, the author may be offered a less-than-optimal contract in the future for books not included in the initial contract. The author may not also be allowed to write another book competing with their own book. Publishers may also seek to not include print on demand books opting for ebooks so extra costs aren't spent on printing, warehousing/storage and distribution, leading to less royalties for the author.

Agent Contracts

With an agent you should have exclusivity. Commission is 15-20%, but make sure it includes any sub-agent fees - not in addition to. They would also have to declare any commercial interests with publishers. You can terminate a contract between 30-90 days. Make sure you are signed to a specific agent and not with the agency or you could be moved around from agent to agent. There may be upfront fees to consider

16:45 - Book Jacket Design: Importance, Considerations, and Approach

Byte The Book's Justine Solomons chaired the session with cover designers Mark Ecob (Mecob Design), Angus Hyland (Pentagram), Claire Ward (Harper Fiction & Non-Fiction).

Angus, though not a polished speaker, designed the EAT. Logo and resigned the new Penguin books penguin which has subtly changed over the century. Penguin is a bit thinner surrounded by a punchier orange.

Each summarised their design process. They studied the background, summary and tone of voice of the book. Their intent is to get the right author to the right audience through the cover working with the title, author name, typeface, its positioning, font and colour. With branding the visual cues are basically carried through typography and genre-related pictures.

And crucially covers do change between UK/US markets and internationally.

After the talk, I was able to get to Mark Ecob to assess my cover. I showed him the before/after covers of the original and new books. Even though I love my new cover, Mark was less effusive stating the stylised 'Starguards' on the back should be on the front top to emphasise the series, the title and my name could be bigger, all the ships should be on the front to give focus, and there should be a strap line (which I had on the original cover). This moment was captured in an industry magazine, so hopefully that'll be in my publicity folder one day! :-) It was good advice which I will be taking for the next cover - Christmas time?

During the day, I met up with various friends, friends of friends and characters. Last year I had met David Perlmutter who since then had signed a publishing deal for his book Wrong Place Wrong Time. I also met authors Stephen Marriot and Jon-Jon Jones. We are the London Book Fair Rat Pack, as I dubbed it. We have fun together despite our different book subjects. It's a great learning experience being with other authors.

I also met up with Saiswaroopa? from last year and as I had mentioned her in my acknowledgements gave her a free book. Though her husband purloined it from her when she got home so she has to read it second!

After the seminars there was a Byte The Book networking event where authors had to ask each other questions to fill out a card to win a bottle of champagne. I could boost to knowing how to ski so that helped out with a few answers. I collected quite a few business cards as well. After that Stephen, Dave, and I nipped over to English Pen which helps promote freedom of expression and literacy. There's nothing like networking after, a few drinks, meeting new people and learning about other agencies around the world.

We then joined Jon-Jon in the Beaconsfield pub at the back of Olympia. There I had one of the best burritos I've ever had. Then it was time for home for me. A long day and ready for some rest.



The Magna Aura Genesis Published

by ray burke on 03/13/17

I am hugely excited and proud to announce my new book.

Part One of the plan has been initiated. The Magna Aura Genesis, book 1 of The Starguards is now on sale. I have used CreateSpace and Lightning Source for paperback and ebook with Amazon, Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, and Indigo with more platforms coming.

Love the cover by KJ Waters, Jody Smyers, and Gardner Watts. And all just in time for the London Book Fair.

Let me know what you think. Buy it, read it, review it! :-)

Project Starguard - The Plan

by ray burke on 02/08/17

Wed Feb 8th.

So, I've been away for a while. And here's why: I've been working on Project Starguard - The Plan

Back last August/September I made a decision, based on feedback and author advice to take a hard look at The Starguards. I started writing it as a teenager and finished it 30 years later, but while I had grown (kind of!), the book had remained an adolescent, mostly in style and grammar wise. The result was a 760-page book with a 4-part integrated universe and time-spanning plot. It was first self-published with CreateSpace/Amazon in 2013 then with Lightning Source a couple years later. Now it's time for a new phase of The Starguards. And here's the plan:

Originally, The Starguards was to be a trilogy of 700-plus-page books, but seeing such books don't sell unless you're an established author with millions of readers, the trilogy will be split into a 10-book series.

The first series will be a quadrilogy, based on the original 4 parts of The Starguards. The overall subtitle will be: Of Humans, Heroes, and Demigods. The four books will be:

Book 1 - The Magna Aura Genesis (due March 2017)

Book 2 - The Axalan Revelation (due late 2017)

Book 3 - The Terra Chronicles (due 2018)

Book 4 - The Destinia Apocalypse (provisionally)

The next series, a continuation of the stories will be The Starguards: Earth Legacy, a trilogy based on the 3-parts of the original second book. Essentially this book has already been written, but due to the redevelopment of the books will have to wait until around 2019.

Book 5 - The Celestian Odyssey

Book 6 - The Exmoor Horizon

Book 7 - This Stranger Earth (provisional)

The original 3rd book was entitled - The Starguards: Of Time, Gods, and Universes. This trilogy (Books 8-10) will nominally end the Starguard series. Now it is subtitled: Of Infinity and Eternity. As this book is only around 50 pages, there is more work to do, but I have time. The best thing is that I do have an ending for the whole series so know where the series is heading.

Plus, with a thousand generations of Celestian Knight history in the Scrolls of History, not to mention the histories of other characters, there is scope for other stories and possible spin-off series. And perhaps there would be provision for book-sets and other outlets.

So that's the plan! Whether they are self-or traditionally published, The Starguards are on their way. Thanks for reading and for your support as always!

Gollancz Book Festival 2016 Review

by ray burke on 09/20/16

Saturday Sept 17th:

At Foyles, Charing Cross Road.

25 fantastic authors were divided throughout the day in various themed panels of 40-minutes duration. They discussed themselves, their books, and ideas, plus general anecdotes and lots of advice.

It was held on the 6th floor above the cafe which was spacious enough, though the chairs were packed closely together for a guy with long legs. While I was meeting a friend, Nick there, I was surprised he was talking to another friend of mine, randomly they had sat together - so there's the world of writing for you, it's a small world! A goody bag was provided on the chair containing a programme and copious amounts of free slimline samples of books, an indispensible SFX 'ultimate sci-fi quiz' book (watch out Lotna!), and other ads for books. It was a real bumper crop.

So after a brief wait and chat with seat-neighbours, the 1st panel consisted of moderator/author Mark Stay with authors Catriona Ward, Tom Toner, and Alister Reynolds. The theme was: 'Why so Early?' why are the authors there so early attending fests and talking to fans? Fan engagement, as sci-fi/fantasy genre seems to engage fans more readily than other 'sub-cultures'. It's one of the few times in the year authors get out and meet fans. At the opposite end, author Catriona Ward stated she writes anytime an idea arises such as when she met her boyfriend's parents for the first time and she spent a lot of it in the loo writing a story on a napkin! Tom Toner said he was a late riser, while Reynolds said he wrote mostly in summer evenings. In regards to deadlines and word counts, there was a feeling of a pressure of time. Ward wrote her first book without publisher in 6 years, while her second was expected in 18 months by the publisher. But their work ethic and accumulated knowledge on the publishing world made it a bit easier.

With social media engagement, what was their timing? Did they make time or just get online whenever? Was it better to just opt out? Reynolds structured his writing environment to avoid distractions. They were also asked about strange sci-fi books written or anything they wrote 'which the world was not ready for!' Strange question, which baffled the authors, though they mentioned works ahead of their time (where they talked about Gene Wolfe and Bruce Sterling).

On the second panel - 'More Than a Story', Stephen Baxter, Pat Cadigan, and Bradley Beaulieu discussed books which changed the world. They started off which books that changed their lives or influenced them, Robert Heinlein figuring hugely (with his diverse characters long before it was de rigueur). Cadigan noted William Gibson's Neuromancer which predicted so much of the cyber-world, but 'missed' the mobile phone/camera phone.

There was also a discourse on 'danger points' in books forcing a message or propagandising or preaching. There was a difference between a plot/idea which served the story rather than served yourself. Books should concentrate on character depth, flaws, goals and conflict.

We had a break and everyone bomb-burst for the cafe where Nick, Kate and I were caught in the long cafe queue. We got back slightly late for the next segment.

Round 3 - 'Awards, huh! What are they Good For?'

Wow - sparks and controversy! What were their role and impact? Woman had gained more wins and nominations. The Arthur C Clarke Awards had done more to promote the genre, though other awards seemed to have lapsed into specialised niches and sub-genres. Even the Hugo awards had partnered with NASA.

Then Scott Lynch sparked critical debates on what were the 'best books' compared to which books won within campaigns, judging politics and infighting. There ensued discussions on what award committees were like, the compromises and horse-trading, and the books that mostly won were most judges' second choices. To me that brought into question the value of awards and the subjectivity/objectivity of such committies. Lynch was really vocal on this, though he was checked on his comments about some awards being subservient to other media, criticising the Hugo awards showing clips from nominated films and not reading from nominated books, but Pat Cadigan (in the audience) stated it was for the MCs to have a bathroom break! Lynch demurred, but insisted some awards were losing out and that even big film studios seemed to snub such awards. Also, that other literary awards carried much bigger kudos and better financial rewards. Cadigan was happy that other awards, such as the Sterling Awards had joint-winners, which seems a sensible thing.

So what were the awards good for? Some influential and famous authors had never won. Lynch stated being on the short-list was enough for him to be recognised and could be a good as being the winner as you were a talking-point, especially if the choice was close.

Panel 4 - #amwriting. The online presence discussed with Gollancz editor Gillian Redfern, authors Rob Abercrombie, Gavin Smith, and Antonia Honeywell. What was their online activity like versus their actual writing? Antonia Honeywell said as a new author she felt it was her responsibility to promote herself and connect with people and fans. She would rather talk to people rather than hard sell her book. On the other hand, sites such as substantive blogs and even short-form Twitter were time-sinks taking away time from actual writing (er, like I'm doing now!). Rob Abercrombie said he started out being obssessed with twitter followers (as was I) but others weren't so bothered.

There was also the issue of the false positivity of some authors stating how good their lives were and how much they were writing. Honeywell believed using #amwriting was a call for help (not sure why) and stated social media was just a tool. She felt readers wanted to connect to authors, learn more about them and their background, their book ideas, and opinions. The panel also talked about the polarisation and echo chamber of social media, the attacks and disagreement.

There was comic relief from Gavin Smith who stated he had next to zero online presence and was made to be on the panel by his editor, Gillian.

Lastly they were asked if they put on a professional front or were personal. Abercrombie talked about his joke Twitter name as Lord Grim Dark which stuck and befitted the nature of his book content. Smith joked he should be Lord Space Opera. Abercrombie talked about another 'famous' author who now blocked him on Twitter for whatever reason. He says his online presence is now an adjudged performance.

So ended the panels. Time for lunch and Nick, Kate and I headed to a nearby Wetherspoons and a good chat. After, while they attended the afternoon panel sessions, I was booked in for the Writers' Workshops in the Phoenix Artist Club across the road. A kindly Big Issue man showed me the entrance as it was hidden around the corner in an alley.

Downstairs was an eclectic setting with photos of actors over the bar and strange objects on the walls like a Darth Vadar helmet over a crocodile head. What better place to inspire an author's imagination.

The first part of the afternoon was a sort of 'speed dating' with authors. 12 tables each with 4 attendees were joined by one author where we could ask them advice. The first at our table (#6) was Tom Toner. We had general introductions and what each of us were doing. Next was Catriona Ward. She gave us advice on writing a synopsis - just tell the story, strip everything out (adjectives and descriptions). With characters, to make them interesting you can use contrasting adjectives as with someone like Oscar Schindler - compassionate Nazi! You then get the conflict in the character.

James Barclay then had some great advice for those troublesome scenes you can't finish - bullet point them. I usually just left a large blank space, but even just sketching out/bullet pointing will help. Elizabeth Bear had advice on worldbuilding, to spread out the info and cut the exposition. On my question about prologues she stated sometimes they can start the main story off cold again.

After that exercise, we attendees were ushered into the adjoining room where were heard from Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Justina Robson. Questions from the audience included how important is the setting. Setting is important, but the character has to develop from the setting. While the background can be a character in itself, character comes first. Another factor is to edit/smooth out incongruous and inconsistent facts.

Lastly, was an ask-the-editor segment. They talked about how they got into the industry, and what they do in the editorial process. What grabs them? Gillian talked about 'vibrating' editors; they know when they read a good book, it excites them and they boot it up the line and can't contain their excitement. Sounds like an extraordinary process. Then their dislikes: gratuitous, shock value rape scenes, lovingly created extended sex scenes - especially on page one! Females looking in the mirror stating how hot they are, action scenes which then descend into discourses on anything else (the grab them then talk about it). Luckily my books don't contain these, but Gollancz had still turned down my book. Time for a rethink, methinks!

Book signings and Party time!

Throughout the day, Gillian Redfern did her best to implore us all to buy books. There were stacks and stacks on the tables and other Gollancz books along the stairs all the way down, plus in the Phoenix Artist club. If I didn't already have a ton of books on my shelves and on my wish list, I would have gone home with more. Gavin Smith's books looked good and I had a quick chat with him. So there was a bit of a wait while the authors signed books in both locations, Scott Lynch seemingly the most popular.

We were finally ushered back onto the 6th floor where wine and snacks were served. At the beginning, Gillian had Lynch, Abercrombie and Tom Lloyd talk about each other's books as they had been published at the same time 10 years ago.  For the most part people were in groups, but for us loners we wandered around pretending to enjoy the wine! Then I struck up a conversation with Izzy (IKS Andrew), a Doctor of Agriculture and great fan of Scott Lynch's books. She had the great idea to sit in the authors' seats on the stage, so we brazenly did so (with a quick chat to Gillian who was passing by). We declared we'd be in the seats for real in 5 years!

Later I spoke to author Al Robertson and when I mentioned Olaf Stapledon, he was surprised as he had just spoken to another attendee who also admired his work. He later introduced us and I met Michael and then Jonathan. Now friends with Michael, Jonanthan, and Izzy. It was a good night mingling and at the end of the night at 8.30pm, I saw Ed Cox. I'd be seeing him and Al Robertson at the next BSFA meet.

And now after that, I realise how much I'll have to re-tool The Starguards. It needs to be ripped up and and rewritten. It's a juvenile, written when I was a juvenile and it hasn't grown up. It needs to, to match the more mature nature of the current 2nd book. So, for everyone waiting for the 2nd book, it'll be a while - not a George RR Martin while, but within 2 years!

Radio Interview on Speculative Fiction Cantina with S. Evan Townsend

by ray burke on 09/20/16

Fri Sept 16th:

My 2nd radio interview. I felt good even though I fluffed a few lines (forgetting to name and expand on my 2nd book - The Starguards: Earth Legacy) but I liked my reading. I need to practice answering questions, but good thinking on my feet. Enjoy:

Ads and Festival

by ray burke on 08/13/16



Looking forward to Gollancz Festival in September. Will be attending for author interviews and workshops. Need to work on world-building!


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