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Back in the 1970s when my son was two, his father gave him a large book entitled The Cat Catalogue. This was a most comprehensive book. A4 in size, it covered each breed and contained chapters entitled ‘The Cat in Literature’, ‘The Intellectual Cat’, etc. At the beginning of each of these chapters was a full-page, black-and-white drawing of cats, each by a different artist. Out of all the drawings, the one that caught my eye was the drawing entitled ‘The Artistic Cat’. It was done by someone who signed himself Marty Norman.

 When literary agent Rosemary Creswell retired without having placed my manuscript MagnifiCat with a traditional publisher, in spite of her enthusiasm for the work, I began to think of publishing the feel-good animal fantasy myself. Whenever I thought about the cover of the novel I was planning, my mind would return to the drawing by Marty Norman, which I’d seen in The Cat Catalogue. Luckily, I still owned the book – but how to find the artist? The book had come out in 1976. More than thirty years had passed.

This is where the web came in handy. But if you think I simply Googled the artist’s name and the rest is history, that didn’t happen. I couldn’t find Marty Norman. If you Google him today, you ‘ll find him easily, but in 2008, he was about as interested in the web as I was. I searched and searched – I even tried Facebook but I still couldn’t find him. There were a number of entries that might have been him. Eventually, I settled on one with a bio and dates that fitted my conception of the artist and sent him a Facebook internal email, explaining that I wanted to use the drawing from The Cat Catalogue for MagnifiCat’s cover and asking his permission. No reply. Seems he was as uninterested in Facebook as I was.

Years went by. I searched the web for an alternative image, but none came near the drawing by Marty Norman. I was obsessed, a lifelong problem of mine. I went back to searching for him. By now it was late 2011. With a friend’s help we tracked down a painting that might’ve been his in a gallery in, I think, New York, but there were no contact details for the artist. Although very different from the drawing I was obsessed with, the painting had the same surety of line that characterised Norman’s drawing for The Cat Catalogue. (See below.)

man on wire

I didn’t let the very considerable difference in style put me off. After all, good artists — and this guy was good— were supposed to be versatile, weren’t they? Besides, all that time had gone by; he was bound to have changed his style. I wrote to the gallery, explaining my dilemma and asking them to forward my request to their Marty Norman. No reply.

By now, I had definitely decided to publish on the web. I stepped up the search, going back over the ground I’d covered in the past. In the Friends Facebook section of the person I’d thought might be the Martin Norman I sought, I found someone I figured was the son. In desperation, I wrote to him via Facebook, stating my problem. Wonder of wonders, he wrote back to me! His father was the artist I sought; he’d pass my email on to him, I would hear from his father shortly. In due time, Marty wrote back. Yes, he was the person, and he would let me use the image. And so the deal was done.

MagnifiCat_Cover_for_KindleEven today, I don’t like Facebook, and only go there if there’s a notification in my email, but I have to admit I would never have found Marty Norman in those days without it.

Norman’s enjoying an illustrious career. There’s a great photo and bio of him

at:   http://www.saatchiart.com/martynorman Check it out. Below are two more examples of the work he is doing today:

Prisma4:Dark Matter

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Matter (painting)                                                      Prisma 4 (drawing)

If you’re interested in seeing more of Norman’s fine art, it can be viewed at:

http://martynorman-art.com/   or at the saatchi link above.

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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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When online bookstores began to take off, Amazon quickly established itself as the biggest dealer in the field. Sure there were other bookstores, for example, Fishpond, but they paled beside the giant Amazon. We’re talking hard copy here.

When Amazon saw the trend towards e-books, it hopped right in and again established itself as the biggest retailer. Sure, there were other e-book distributors — Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords and others — but Amazon was the biggest. A huge industry sprang up. Writers could self-publish their books and put them on many different distribution platforms.

Looking good. Good for the writers, good for the e-book publishers and distributors. A nice competitive industry.

Then Amazon produced the Amazon Kindle, a series of e-book readers that enable users to shop for, download, browse and read e-books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and other digital media via wireless networking (source: Wikipedia). Amazon has now launched what it calls Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing  or Amazon KDP. With this, a writer can get his book published by Amazon and have it go directly to Kindle, which is grabbing a large share of the applications market with the introduction of its Kindle software for use on various platforms such as Microsoft Windows, iOS, Blackberry, MacOSX (10.5 onward, Intel only), Android, webOS and Windows Phone (source: Wikipedia).  The most recent refinement of all this is Amazon KDP Select.

Amazon KDP Select. This sounds good — until you read the small print in Amazon’s Terms and Conditions: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=APILE934L348N

To paraphrase this small print: While or the time your book is enrolled in the program, you must agree not to distribute or sell your book ANYWHERE ELSE. This includes your own personal blog or web site. Your title must be 100% exclusive to Amazon.

If you violate this at any point during the 3-month enrolment period, or you remove your book from the program so you can distribute it elsewhere, you risk forfeited earnings, delayed payments, a lien on future earnings – or getting kicked out of the Kindle Direct Publishing program altogether.

After the obligatory 3 months, your enrolment in the KDP Select continues unless you go through the process of opting out. Forget, and you’re up for another 3 months.

This forces the author to remove the book from sale from the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords and others, thereby causing the author to lose out on sales from competing retailers.

By withdrawing a title from any retailer, the author destroys any accrued sales ranking in their lists, making their book less visible and less discoverable should they reactivate distribution to competing retailers.

Do authors want to be totally dependent upon Amazon for sales? New writers are desperate; they will do almost anything to sell their books. And they know that with Amazon KDP, more customers are motivated to go straight to Amazon since Amazon has this exclusive content.

It’s a clever ploy on Amazon’s part. As Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords says, The new Amazon KDP Select program look s like a predatory business practice (ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-competitive_practices). Pretty soon, Amazon can use the opportunity to leverage their dominance as the world’s largest e-book retailer (and world’s largest payer to indie authors) to attain monopolistic advantage by effectively denying its competing retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, Sony, etc) access to the books from indie authors.

Indies are the future of book publishing. In the US, in the last three months of 2010, Amazon’s sales of e-books surpassed that of paperbacks for the first time.

Think about this. It might pay indie authors to recognise that their long term interests are best served by having a competitive global ebook retailing ecosystem. Mark Coker recommends an author distribute their book to as many retailers as possible. Many ebook retailers, all working to attract readers to books, will surely serve indie authors better in the long run than a single retailer who can dictate all the terms.

But whoever thinks of the long run? The long run is everyone’s poor relation, doomed to be steamrollered by the bullies of expediency and money.

The contents of this blog are based on a blog by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. The original, more comprehensive article can be found at: blog.smashwords.com/2011/12/amazon-shows-predatory-spots-with-kdp.html

Next Week: A review of Australian author Michael Sala’s debut novel The Last Thread published by Affirm Press.

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Ah twitter, what a waste of time. It’s got to epitomise the worst of the social media – frivolous, banal, no use to anyone. Certainly not to a struggling writer like yourself.

Think again.

I’ve only been investigating social media for six weeks and twitter for two. What I’ve discovered might amaze you. While it’s true that twitter and Facebook have a lot of rubbish in them, twitter is also doing something else.

It’s broadcasting. In real time — assuming you have a phone that will take the app. I don’t have one at the moment, but after what I’ve seen in the last two weeks, I can see that, as a serious writer, just as I once had to have a computer rather than an electric typewriter, now I’m going to have to buy a phone that will take a twitter application.

For those of you as innocent as I was of twitter and how it works, the basis is this:

On twitter, you choose to Follow certain people. Other people may choose to Follow you. How did these followers find you? They found you on other social media sites. The tweets from the people you are following come up on your screen. Your tweets only appear on the screens of those who are following you.

I currently have 6 followers. Right. So what use could I possibly get out of twitter?

Twitter acts as a broadcaster. A recent survey, whose figures I can’t exactly remember, so puleese don’t quote me, said that 40% of twitter is banality; 30% is self-promotion and the rest is information — which, if you have chosen Who to Follow carefully is information that might be relevant to you. For example, last week, Pier 9, an Australian publishing house in the Murdoch empire, advertised that they were looking for an editor with 2-3 years experience in the trade.

As far as I know, THEY DIDN’T PUT THE AD IN THE NEWSPAPER, THEY PUT IT ON TWITTER.

Agents, publishers, editors are putting stuff out that might be relevant to you. And you can follow them.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, you can broadcast your own stuff. Wot stuff? Well, recently I had a short story scheduled to be read out on BayFM, the radio station in Byron Bay. It’s not every day I get a story read out on radio, I wanted people to tune in and listen, so I tweeted this to my 6 followers.

You tweeted it to six followers! What possible use could that be to you? I mean to say, 6 people are going to hear about it this way, you’d have been better off texting them. Wrong. Because I was also a member of that powerful social media site Ecademy (the first on the scene in 1998, BTW, compared with Facebook’s 2004) I had been lucky enough to meet Sam Borrett, one of the highflyers there. I became one of his followers, and he graciously become one of mine. When I tweeted to 6 people, he retweeted my message to his followers who number around 5,000. Some of those followers have 20,000 followers.

Are you getting the picture now?

Working on the old six-degrees-of-separation theory, even if you’re not fortunate enough to have a powerful follower at first hand as I had, you can bet your boots that somewhere down the track, one of your followers’ followers has. If you’re thinking of putting out a book in the future, get onto twitter. When your time comes, you’ll have a following, who also have a following, who also have a following, and that’s how something can become viral.

Let’s suppose you don’t use twitter and you have a book coming out. You go for newspapers and a bit of radio if you’re lucky.

How many people do you think will hear about your book?

[More in a fortnight on the social media scene in general, and why, as a writer, you need to be in it.]

Follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com#!/de_valera

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