Liz of Liz Loves Books shares her thoughts on being a new blogger

Guess where I met Liz?  When I first got to know this delightful tweet-addict she read avidly and reviewed pretty much everything she read on Amazon and Goodreads. This is brilliant, but what’s even better is that last month she launched her own book blog, Liz Loves Books.  Liz is incredibly vocal and passionate about the authors she loves and all things literary, so it seemed only natural that I would seek her thoughts on book blogging and reviewing.  Here’s what she had to say:

imagesSo I finally got my website up and running. With a lot of blood sweat and tears, I can now finally blog about the books I love, point people towards things I think they will enjoy and generally try and get my love of reading over to the world. With the help of Twitter and Facebook the world really is my oyster.

So how have I been finding it? Well its interesting I have to say. I’ve always had my favourite genres but I have also always been willing to read ANYTHING if someone tells me its GOOD. Now of course, I’m in a position to be able to be the person saying whether its good or not, and perhaps encourage others to try something they may not dip their toes into normally. I’ve seen other bloggers get some crap thrown their way when asked for an honest review and actually GIVING one. I’ve watched some bloggers struggle with whether to give a review or not because they have not liked a book. So its all been a learning curve for me. A HUGE peeve that is in my mind, even before I started down this road proper was those authors who seem to expect you to love their book just because. Its been around a bit – on Facebook and Twitter – really quite nasty comments aimed at a reviewer who has honestly said they think the book is, well, rubbish. Some books ARE rubbish. Some books will be loved my many and hated by a few and vice versa. Readers are funny creatures you know. They love what they love and they get annoyed if a book is badly written or just plain bad…me I’ve been known to send a book sailing out of the window in disgust at the pure drivel inside it. One particularly popular novel ended up soaked and covered in bird droppings in my garden until one of my friends finally disposed of it into the bin. So, its all in the eye of the reader.

My personal opinion. When an author or publicist is looking for a reviewer/blogger to advance read a copy of an upcoming novel they should pick carefully. Most bloggers, including myself, put information on their sites about the books they tend to enjoy. If a blogger says they only really like Crime Fiction what is the POINT of sending them a self help book or a romance novel. But it happens. I’ve had some strange requests and I’ve only just started. Because of the fact that I’ve been watching what happens I have been more prepared to turn people away – so I am ONLY reading the books I’m fairly convinced I will like and be able to give a good review to. Of course there will still be those I receive that DON’T speak to me, but hey, thats life. I’m doing MY best to ensure that everyone is happy with the result, hence why on my website there is so far only one bad review. Some of the books reviewed – The Humans for example by the incredible Matt Haig – are NOT in my immediate comfort zone but they sounded interesting so I read them anyway. But thats me. SOME bloggers really DO only want to read a certain type of novel and most of them say so quite clearly in their reviewing policy. So authors. READ their reviewing policy. And don’t get on your high horse if after a reviewer says they didnt like your book you suddenly feel hard done by. The next reviewer may love it. I may love it – I love lots of things!

So, how many books can I handle? Well I’m a fast reader. Anyone who has already been following me on Twitter and Goodreads prior to my site going live know that I read an awful lot of books in a very short time. Thats just me. So before I started promoting my site I thought long and hard about how many books I would accept, should the requests come, within any given period. I can, when life allows, read a book a day – sometimes more. But if I allow for the fact that I’m also a full time single mother with two little boys, I know that in reality that number is less. So I will only accept 5 requests at a time – because I WANT to read other stuff as well, not just ones that I am doing by request – and I am REALLY on board with the idea that if you are going to accept a reading request you should be able to give it full concentration and do your very best for the author concerned. Because we SHOULD be promoting the great reads. We SHOULD be promoting those authors who have real talent whether they be mainstream or Indie.

I have had a lot of requests, many more than I was actually expecting. And I’ve turned most of them down. So if I have agreed to read your book – be reassured. Its because I WANT to read it. Because I’m reasonably convinced I will like it enough to actually give you a great review and some decent promotion. Whether its in my immediate comfort zone as stated on my site or not. I THINK about it. Because much as it is the responsibility of the author/publicist to try and get the advance copies out to the right people it is JUST AS MUCH my responsibility to only accept what I can handle realistically and what I think I will enjoy.

Happy reading folks!

Follow Liz on Twitter for witty and insightful comments or check out her website for all the latest book reviews. Tomorrow will be the turn of Amy Bookworm to tell us what she loves and hates about book blogging.

Please Love Me!

untitledLately I’ve been pondering the relationship between book reviewers and authors, particularly reviewers with book blogs. It’s a strange and delicate balance. On the one hand, it can be mutually beneficial and highly productive (I don’t mind admitting that I’ve met many book bloggers this year that I’d like to call friends and that have certainly spurred me on to produce more work). Quite frankly, authors (particularly indie authors) need book bloggers like Wallace needs Gromit and there’s no getting around that. And bloggers need their books just as much to feed their passion for reading. The flip-side of that perfect union is when the relationship breaks down.

Authors are a needy bunch. We live to tell stories, to evoke emotions in others, and we crave approval for what we do more than anything. It hurts to hear someone say that they don’t like the thing that you poured your heart and soul into, the thing that you very likely spent a great many months – even years – creating. Not to mention the amount of money indie authors can spend on producing a book. I don’t mind saying that it hurts just as much to hear someone say they didn’t care either way about your book. To hear ‘nice’ is about as painful as ripping an author’s still-beating heart from their chest and eating it in front of them (melodramatic… me? Humour me, I’m a writer). Despite all this, we still don’t have the right to criticise someone else’s opinion about it. What makes one person’s view count more than another’s? A reviewer is no less passionate about literature than an author is – that passion just manifests in a different way.

So, because I’m a curious type, I thought I’d ask some of the writers and reviewers I’ve got to know over the six months I’ve been publishing what their take on the relationship was. I compiled a list of questions; some chose to answer them straight, some found that the questions took them on a journey of musings all of their own, which they very kindly wrote down for me. During the next week or so, I’ll be publishing these ramblings on my site (in no particular order, I hasten to add). Tomorrow will see the series kick off with the gorgeous Sharon Goodwin of Jera’s Jamboree. Enjoy!

Well, I like it anyway…

Some wise writer once said something about if you cannot find the story you want to read you must write it yourself. I wish I could remember who that was and the exact quote (answers on a postcard, but, remember, it’s just for fun…), but never was a truer thing spoken… unless, of course, you just find a bigger bookstore…

But surely self-indulgence is the province and privilege of the writer. After all, much as we protest to cater for our readers, first we must like what we’re writing ourselves. I love fantasy, I love sci-fi and magical realism, and I love young adult. So this is what I write. I could never do justice to a gripping crime thriller or police procedural because I rarely read them (never say never!). I love jeopardy, so I write it. I love to see my protagonist compromised or vulnerable in some way, but to come out the other side a stronger character, so I write it. I love happy endings, so I write them too. There is a long-standing joke amongst my friends that I can’t write a story without snogging. So guess what?

But is it right to simply sit at a keyboard and please yourself? What about the author-reader contract? What about fashions and editorial requirements and moral responsibilities? I have read many disgruntled reviews over the years that complain of the writer of some book or TV series not paying the slightest regard to the wishes of their audience. Lost is a case in point – viewers hated the ending because they felt they had in some way been cheated. Yet some self indulgent writer sat at a keyboard and ended it just the way they wanted to. The same can be said for BBC’s Merlin – for 4 years the writers steadfastly refused to give the magical reveal that they knew their fans were clamouring for and, seemingly, only budged in the end to avoid the death threats that would undoubtedly come their way if they didn’t, not to mention the fact that the climax created a distraught army of fans just in time for Christmas day.

Aren't you proud of me that I resisted the urge to post a Merlin photo here?

Aren’t you proud of me that I resisted the urge to post a Merlin photo here?

The other side of this is the dreaded market.  I don’t say this because I have no regard for the people who may read my books, but because I never seem to be able to fit into the industry categories, nor, indeed, stay in one when I do.  I tend to flit from style to style, depending on my mood, and through genres and sub-genres.  It’s early days, but I suspect it might prove difficult to sustain a loyal audience this way.  Recently, I’ve begun final edits on a YA romcom, a bleak YA paranormal story and an NA thriller/urban fantasy.  If life is like a box of chocolates then I’m afraid that my brain must be a bag of Haribo.

For now, I have to write what I love, self-indulgently and regardless.  Only that way can I produce a story I love and hope that others will too.

With a little help from my friends…

old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879I’ve made a lot of friends through writing. Many of these are in real life: through my university course and local writing networks. Many more have been via social media. It’s been a strange experience in many ways, particularly ‘meeting’ people virtually.  Some of my online friends I’ve since met in real life and they’ve been every bit as delightful as they are in the ether. Some, I know I will never meet, and that makes me sad, because they are people I feel I have a strong friendship with, even a deep affection for, despite never having met them face to face.

In today’s writing world, I think there is no stronger tool than collaboration with other writers. In the days of ink and quill, writing was considered a rather solitary affair, but not anymore. In our rapidly shrinking world, we have so many ways to link up. We’re in constant contact every day, updating each other from across the globe about how many words we’ve done, when we’re taking a break, how our editing is driving us nuts.  We participate in blog hops and Nanowrimo and virtual launch parties. Some of us take these relationships, cherish them and build on them, because we understand that you can’t make it alone. People just like you are the people who will root for you, will retweet you, will send readers to your blog, will beta read for you and critique with the best of intentions, will give you heads-up on news, will egg you on when you flag. And you will do the same for them. In my opinion, that’s how it should be – a community based on mutual respect and collaboration.

But I have also encountered the flip-side of this.  Take this example:  A friend on twitter chats to a friend of theirs who has exactly the same interests as me, has other mutual friends, even writes the same genre.  I follow that person, attempt to chat to them, and I’m ignored.  I don’t understand why.  Not for a minute am I suggesting that everyone has to follow me because I follow them, or reply to me when I mention them, but I fail to see the logic in not doing these things when we quite clearly have so much in common.  We have all the necessary ingredients to make another strong link in the chain; why would you throw that opportunity away? Why would you actively set yourself apart from other writers like you? What does this achieve?

Sometimes, I admit, I feel envious of others I consider vastly more talented/ successful/ popular than me; I’m a human being, after all.  But I fight those feelings because I think that life as an indie author is hard enough without negativity taking hold and without alienating yourself from the people who could support you on your journey, just as you can support them.  I’d rather try my best to be happy for others, even when I have a down day and I don’t feel like it, than sit stewing in my juices.  The writing journey is a much more fulfilling one when you can share it with people who understand each step.

If songs could be blurbs…

You know when you sit and daydream about your new book and imagine a montage in the film version that you’re absolutely certain will be made one day, then you make a mental note of the music that would be playing over the scene and decide that you’ll insist the film’s producers approach the band in question and pay them any amount of money they ask for that song?

Oh, so that’s just me then? Well, the first time I heard this song the lyrics immediately resonated with me because they were so reminiscent of the scenes where Elijah is travelling the road with his friends in Runners. Enjoy!

Trailer Trash

Today is all about book trailers. I’ve been looking at trailers for other books for a while now and I love the idea so I finally decided to set aside the time to make one of my own for Runners. You select some images, a tag line, some music, and stick it all together – I mean, how hard can it be?   You’re sighing now and rolling your eyes heavenward and you’d be justified.  Misguided doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The music I want is something like this…

or this…

but what I find is available that I am allowed to use sounds mostly like this…

And don’t even get me started on photos! Free and also royalty free downloads are as about as easy to find as a unicorn in Birmingham, but not nearly so much of a delightful surprise when you do. Then there’s the problem of converting everything you want so that it will all go onto the same software, setting up a YouTube channel… My lack of skill with anything technical is now legendary so you don’t expect me to be good at this, do you?

A twenty minute job is turning into twenty days. Don’t you dare laugh when you finally see it.

Serial Spoilers

I’ve recently seen two separate blog posts about spoilers in reviews (check out both excellent sites, Liz Loves Books and Between the Lines)  and many other tweets/Facebook comments.  It started up a Twitter conversation of my own with fellow authors and we got to the point of how difficult it is for the author themselves not to spoil when writing a book series. 3065361442_21d4cc62e7

This was a problem I wrestled with for some time when writing the blurbs for The Young Moon and Not of Our Sky, which follow on directly from Sky Song.  While it was difficult enough to write a blurb and talk about The Young Moon in interviews, it was particularly problematic when it came to Not of Our Sky.  In the final book, almost everything that happens is as a direct result of what happens in the final chapter of The Young Moon, and without referring to that, it was pretty much impossible to give any indication of the story.  The other side of this issue is that I want to give some information, and it has to be enough to hint at something that will tempt the reader to come back to books two and three.

I’ve read one or two reviews of the follow-on books to Sky Song, and some give away more than others.  While this makes me a little nervous, I completely understand how difficult it is to comment in any meaningful way without referring to events that might be viewed as spoilers.  It’s a tough call when you have to decide how much information is too much.  I can also see why potential readers would be put off by spoilers.  I can’t tell you how angry I was Christmas 2010 when the Radio Times gave away the series finale of Merlin by printing the teaser before the penultimate episode had aired!

As usual, everything comes back to Merlin!  It’s not like I’m obsessed or anything. But the question remains: When it comes to series sequels, how much is too much?  What are your thoughts?

L is for Lovely Little Lies

We all lie.  Whether we think we do or not.  According to some of the fascinating studies I’ve read before writing this post, most of us lie many times a day without even realising it.  One study  estimated that we tell two to three lies every ten minutes.  We lie about small things and big things,  we lie to spare the feelings of others or to spare our own.  We lie to get ourselves out of trouble or to save others from trouble.  We embelish stories, we leave awkward details out.  That’s a pretty hefty chunk of porkies a day.  Imagine how many we tell in our lifetimes.  Many of them will never be found out.harry lies

But what if you’re a writer of fiction?  People lie to us even more.  My family and friends almost certainly lie when they hand back a manuscript with the words ‘It was good.’ and a look of abject terror that I’ll break down into unhinged sobbing as I figure out they didn’t like it at all. Writers of fiction lie too, every time we switch on the laptop or pick up a pen and construct a sentence. We lie for fun.  We create whole worlds full of fabricated events and people that don’t exist, we use every tool at our disposal to convince you that we’re showing you truth, or at least make you believe us for a little while. We do it knowingly and with intent to manipulate.   We tell you that we’re going to lie to you before we dish out our big, juicy platter of whoppers.  Are we forgiven?  Because lovely little lies are what makes the world go around.

The Curse of the Light Bulb

light-bulb-design-setsiri-silapasuwanchaiI call myself a light bulb writer, which means my brain lights up at the tiniest flick of a switch. This happens a lot, and if I don’t get my thoughts down straight away, I lose them.  Which also means that I can have half a dozen or more unfinished manuscripts around the place at any one time.  I’m bursting with ideas; so many that I’ll probably never find the time to write all those books.  People ask me where the ideas come from.  The truth is, half the time, the trigger was so small and insignificant that I can barely recall it.  Like Sky Song; I have no idea what sparked the original idea for that, only the thought processes that came afterwards.  The Memory Game came from a short story, the idea for which came from a photograph of a bike.  I started a novel a few weeks ago set off by a random remark on Twitter.  It can be song lyrics, paintings, snippets of conversation, or a just a book title I’ve thought of.   Runners was a dream I had. I woke in the middle of the night, grabbed my notebook, and six fully-formed characters just came out of my head.  I have notebooks crammed with opening lines, vague premises, plots and character sketches.

Don’t panic, though.  I won’t be bombarding you with novels.  In fact, for all these ideas, I doubt I’m any more productive than my writing colleagues.  Because, as fast as I start a novel, I put it aside to make way for a new idea.  That’s the curse of the light bulb.  The rarest piece makes it to completion, so maybe that says something about the actual quality of most of my ideas!  One day with discipline, I may become a steady, reliable gas lantern, slowly cooking away, one idea at a time.  But don’t hold your breath.

Location, location, inspiration.

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This weekend I’ve been splashing around in cold seas, scoffing ice-cream and scrambling over rocks. There might have been some shopping involved too but that’s a different story…

There has been a purpose to all this frivolity, however. I’ve been researching locations for the last book in the Sky Song trilogy, Not of Our Sky. More accurately, one very important location that’s integral to the climax. Every writer has a slightly different approach to using locations in their stories according to their needs. As a fantasy writer, my sense of place (a bit like my writing in general) lies somewhere in between real and made up. Quite often I’ll take an actual place and modify it. Sometimes I just won’t tell you where that place is. There is quite a lot of that in Sky Song, for example, I don’t tell you where the boating lake is, but it is a real location.

*As an aside, the only clue you’ll get from the entire three books of the park’s location in the physical world is this line from The Young Moon:

Jacob was hit by a rush of conflicting emotions as he entered the dolphin-embossed gates and the glittering waters of the lake stretched out before him, beyond which the hazy blue rim of the sea cut across the horizon.

Anyone recognise it now?*

The reason I don’t always tell you the name of the real place is that the story needs me to alter it in some way, and I don’t want everyone shouting at me that the details aren’t right. The boating lake is in a real park, but I take details of an annual event in another, nearby park and add them to my boating lake park, then I chuck in some buildings that don’t exist in the real park either because they have a vital part to play in the final confrontation of the book. In my upcoming standalone novel Runners, I do tell you the real name of every location, but the action is set in the future so that you can accept that the landscape or buildings may have changed. The climax of Not of Our Sky, however, needs a real place and it needs to be accurate because the whole book has been foreshadowing the events there in such a way that it has to be named. The action takes place in a contemporary time too so it has to look in the book how the real place looks now. And despite the fact that I have researched the location extensively from afar, actually visiting it this weekend has revealed just how little of the details I actually got right! Physically seeing the landscape has also suggested new ideas to weave into that final scene that would never have occurred to me had I not been there, ideas that I’m sure will improve it.

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Of course, it’s not always possible to visit your locations. In the second book of the trilogy, The Young Moon, there is an equally important, really existing location. Sadly, however, that place is one I travelled to many years ago and as I don’t have the money to go back there, I’ve had to rely on my ageing memory and let Google fill in the gaps!

But why not simply set the books in the place I live? Wouldn’t that be easier?

Having been born in Dorset but brought up in Stoke-on-Trent, I do actually use both places frequently as a source of inspiration. The story dictates the setting. And the stories I’m working on now need the Dorset and Hampshire landscapes to work. There is something epic about the terrain there, something quite mystical. Hardy saw it and wove it into the fabric of his novels like a character. But there are other stories I write that Stoke is a perfect backdrop for. Most of my short stories are set there, particularly the ones with more of a realist feel. For me, Stoke, as a city, is incredibly real; the people have a natural grounding and no-nonsense self-deprecation that seems to suit those stories better.

I know some writers who can set a story in a place they’ve never visited by simply researching it for a sense of location and some who only ever set things in the place they live. Some spend pages describing intimately their locations and some throw in titbits to give you only a flavour. And, obviously, there are some whose places don’t exist anywhere except in their books. Their methods work for them as writers and their stories. It’s a fascinating process and one that, for me, is almost as important as characters and plot. Location can do so much to shape a story.