Can Everton Jones find out how his father stole Emperor Bokassa’s diamonds and, more importantly, where he hid them; before the world and his brother get there first?
Click on the picture link in the sidebar to read an extract of my first novel, which was published by Paradise Press in August 2012.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Requiescat in pace?

In my recent post about the authonomy “starring” system, I referred to a trip I made to the authonomy graveyard (the bottom of the slush pile where books left on the system inevitably go when they are abandoned by their authors). It was interesting to notice how many of these have now been self-published in one form or another. I can quite see why. If I can’t find a publisher for my book, then it simply has to make it into hard copy one way or another, if only because I badly want the real Susan Piggot to read it. As I should be able to afford it soon, why not go down this route?

To do it properly, that means getting a professional critique (£189, down to £112 a pop if you pay for four in one go). Then re-write(s) informed by the critique(s). I had hoped I might be able to get an informed critique of the book from authonomy, but most people will just read the opening, and that’s pretty much as good as I think I can get it. I read the first chapter to Harrow Writer’s Circle recently and they wanted to hear more, raved about the dialogue and characterisation and were generally extremely encouraging. Once I’ve got a solid appraisal then I will need to find an editor. Copy-editing alone will cost $1100. And then… and then… the choice of which route to follow. Print on demand? Small print-run? Kindle? Independent publishing house? That sounded good, so I started googling.

Lo and behold, I fell on Paradise Press. It’s an imprint with an excellent track-record, and perhaps the only “gay” imprint left in the UK since the demise of Gay Men’s Press. (Well, discounting Millivres and Prowler Press, who mainly publish porn.) Paradise Press is actually the publishing arm of the Gay Author’s Workshop (contactable via the paradise press site "contact us" tab) , a collective, some of whom I’ve met at a Gay Studies course I attended at the University of Edinburgh a long time ago. I actually considered going along to GAW’s monthly meetings a year ago, but settled on a different group which has now folded. GAW is essentially using Paradise Press to self-publish their work, once they, collectively, feel it is good enough. Trying to get a “gay” book to be accepted by a mainstream publisher is so difficult this seems to be the only way, and this is exactly what I wanted to achieve anyhow. Having the weight of these people behind me will be almost as good as acceptance down the traditional agent/publishing contract route. In the meantime I’ll give authonomy one last hurrah whilst I’m re-editing.

There’s an irony, from the graveyard into paradise!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas is cancelled.

“Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” That’s the quote. Well it looks like the White Christmas the nation’s been waiting years for has finally arrived. Four days to go and no sign of any of the damn stuff even beginning to melt. Queues for Eurostar out of St. Pancras and round the block as far as the British Library, Trains running a limited timetable, my favourite Tring-Euston service suspended altogether, artics jack-knifing all over the place, pavements covered in foul black slush and all because of a single snow storm on Saturday. At least it’s so cold that the snow hasn’t melted and then refrozen. It’s fairly safe to walk on. Last year the sideroads in London were like glass. To top it all, my brother decided to spend Christmas with his wife’s relations in Cornwall this year. So my festive season was already delayed until after boxing day. Yesterday a foot of snow landed on Devon, and they are not sure if it’s sensible to go. So last minute changes of plan all round. We may have the family Christmas after all, and on the right day, but will we have a turkey? I called them last night and, although they’d been helping the neighbours murder the turkeys they farm, they hadn’t ordered one themselves until after Christmas. Even the trains are problematic, so there’s a real possibility I won’t be able to get up to see them anyway. Compound all of this with a train strike called by ASLEF grounding London Midland trains on the 23rd and crippling the Tube network on Boxing Day and the problem just gets worse. Apparently the points are freezing up, and Network Rail have had to set them all to “straight ahead” so the trains can get through, but this means they can’t serve all routes. Train doors are even freezing shut, so I could be unable to get out when—or rather if—I ever make it up to Staffordshire.

And the worst thing is, the snowfall was accurately predicted days in advance. It’s embarrassing. There was an interview with the last government’s chief scientific adviser on the Today programme this morning. Very interesting. It seems the “North Atlantic Oscillation”—an irregular, periodic, variation between the low air pressure over Iceland and the high pressure over the Azores—is responsible. The pressure difference has oscillated back down to the levels last seen in the ’60’s. Which reduces the impetus to warm atlantic air and lets gusts of icy, snowy, wind down from the arctic from time to time. Here’s a graphic which illustrates it all very clearly (we’re in “negative mode” at present).The cold snap back in the sixties lasted several years. That makes the politicians’ excuses that we’ve just had three cold winters in a row look rather lame. That the outgoing chief scientist clearly advised them this was no flash in the pan years ago exposes their lack of planning as shamefully cynical penny-pinching.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Stars in their eyes.

Authonomy has star-ratings now. And, apparently, they do carry some weight. In particular, they count towards the weekly chart. On returning to promoting my book, I went laboriously through my old reviews and rated every one. In return, I got a good number of ratings back in a short time and even rode up almost to the top of the weekly chart for a brief moment of glory!

Most books seem to be rated at four stars, even extremely good ones and extremely bad ones. Which is a bit odd, until you look carefully at the rules and think about how people will inevitably use them. Authonomy has given this some thought too but, as might have been expected, have not considered everything. Their concern seems to be that, because the star-rating is secret, users will seek to abuse it either by one-starring every book except their own, or six-starring books to encourage the author to help their book in some way (backing or starring in return). So they say that consistently rating at the extremes of the range will lead to a single star being upgraded to a three and a six star rating being downgraded to a four. This doesn’t take the venal practices of many authonomites fully into account.

Firstly, what if I tell someone I’ve given them six stars but then secretively only give them four (or even one)? Then consider that we tend only to review and star work which we like, and so would naturally be giving high ratings anyway? I’m currently only backing work I expect to rise a long way, so these will naturally be rated with six stars. If I continue doing this, I’m actually hurting the books’ star-ratings since authonomy will downgrade my six to a four. The four that most books seem to be rated at. Perhaps that’s why?

I couldn’t resist the temptation, during my starring expedition, to hurl a single star at authors who didn’t have the courtesy to read my book after I’d read theirs. Once I’d finished, and thought about the full implications of the rules, I went down to the graveyard and rated some long abandoned books with fours and fives, to make my distribution of stars more even, in the hope that the ones and sixes actually stuck. Incidentally, if I’ve actually told someone the rating I gave their book, that’s the actual rating I gave. If I rated their book poorly, then I didn’t tell them, in case they rated my own book down in response.

All in all, it now looks like a colossal waste of time and effort. The progression of a book is much more strongly determined by its longevity on good shelves than by its star rating. They are all the same anyhow.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Eating my words.

Well, well,well... you just never know, do you? Since my last post, I’m eating my words, somewhat, anyway. That book, “King of the Mutants”? It just garnered 41 backings, and is now on three very good shelves and seven good shelves. Outcome, it’s outperforming “Seattle Strange” by a country mile, standing at 1919, compared with 2221. Hmph. You can never tell. I still believe in “Seattle”, however, and have no choice but to follow my instincts. On a happier note, I have picked another book, the wonderful “Sure Movement”. It has got to 2227 in two days and has longevity on the few good shelves it is on.

The outcome for my TSR? Well, it is still advancing, up 55 to 239. It must still be earning points, just that the authors ranked in this region are earning points at a more rapid rate now. I’ve “run into a bit of flack!” The question in my mind now is whether I am about to have another big drop at the 30-day anniversary of the last one? The logic would suggest that the points will be being lost on a rolling basis, so I hope not. I’ll report back when I find out.

On a more humourous note, I was listening to the 6pm news on Radio 4 on Friday and misinterpreted the following. It was a piece about Tony Walsh, a defrocked Catholic priest in Dublin, who had admitted “using children for his sexual gratification, one a fortnight, for eight years”. Well, that’s not amusing. Later on in the same piece they said that “a housekeeper at [his house in] Westland Row later complained that she found syringes and condoms in Walsh’s room and sore boys leaving it”. Which is amusing, sort of. Of course the script must have said saw, but I realised this is a perfect example of a kind of error sadly much in evidence on authonomy, the “homophone” spelling mistake. Using one word instead of another when they have different spellings but sound the same. A classic is “quiet” instead of “quite” and another, “then” instead of “than”. They’re just not the same word. It’s infuriating, especially when, should I have the temerity to correct the error in my review, the (frequently) American authors complain “it’s not edited yet”. Usually vehemently adding that US spelling is different. Well, it is, of course. But just not of these words. I know how to use American spelling properly and this public display of ignorance drives me crazy. They seem to think an in-house copy editor will put their ungrammatical and badly spelt masterpiece right free of charge once they have “won” authonomy and got that elusive best-seller deal. The reality is, of course, that their dreadfully produced manuscript will go right into the round file the moment an agent finds their first howler. End of rant.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Talent Spotting.

I think I have now understood the Talent Spotter Rating (or TSR) on authonomy following the rule changes. It has taken a long time to fathom. The first and most obvious thing to consider is that the number of points a book gains depends on the TSR of the person who has put it on their shelf. So, a backing from an unranked member counts for nothing. Equally, putting your own book on your shelf will only waste a space. Two days ago, I put “Seattle Strange” on my shelf, as I liked it, thought it well written and thought it had the potential to do well. It had only three backers at that time. But one of them had a TSR of 27, one was at 700 and mine was 779 at the time. Competing for the slot on my shelf was “The King of the Mutants”. This was a really zany story, not quite as well written and had a number of errors, was nowhere near as profane or rude as “Seattle” but, on the plus side, would appeal to kids. The clincher, in deciding which of the two to back was that, although fifteen members had “Mutant” on their shelves, none of these had any significant TSR (oh and nine of those fifteen were sock puppets, see below). Outcome? This morning, “Seattle” has gone up to 2964, whereas “Mutant” has risen only up to 3519. (Remember, we’re counting down from the top, so low numbers mean a higher rank). See, it’s the strength of the backing which counts, not the number of shelves. Incidentally, the easiest way to find out who has a particular book on their shelf is to mouse over the text which says “on X bookshelves” (under the tag cloud on the right of the book's page) and click on the link.

So TSR is far from unimportant. My backing will not be sought-after if my TSR is poor. So to my absolute horror, my TSR, plunged from 995 to 3986 on November 29th , and fell to a low point of 4021 on December 1st. Nor was I alone, many other users suffered the same fate. Authonomy provided the explanation that points accrued towards TSR are erased after 30 days. They said I must have lost some of those. Well, that’s a worry. It means I have permanently to devote my effort to spotting winners or else resign myself to a poor TSR.

I also remember, when I first registered, that it took a while for my TSR to have a rating. For some time it just said “not yet ranked” under my profile picture. I can only think that you need to back a lot of books before getting a rating.

Now, authonomy says that the number of points which I earn for having a book on my shelf at midnight depends on how close to the bottom the book was when I put it on my shelf, how far up it has gone since I have left it there and how close to the top it is at the time. The trick is, therefore, to find a book near the very bottom, with potential to do well (i.e. it is a “good” book) and leave it on my shelf for as long as possible. So that’s what I did. I looked at the newly posted books. (The easiest way to do this is to click the “community” link and then look at the “latest authors” pane.) I quickly found “Sally and Jack”, which had acquired a large number of backings in just two days. Examining these was interesting. Quite a large number of them were “sock puppets” (duplicate accounts created in an attempt to cheat the system). It is quite impossible to know who created them, so I am very definitely not saying that they were created by the author. Most likely they have been created by others who thought, like me, that this book was going to rise rapidly and gain their sock puppet a good TSR. But what they have not taken into account is that they need to have a rating first. Anyhow, the book has done extremely well, is now on 14 excellently rated shelves as well as those of those parasitic sock puppets and has risen to 295 and still going strong, though its rate of rise has slowed now it is nearer the top. Along with “Leaving Deally” (15 good shelves) these two books on my shelf has seen my TSR rise to the giddy heights of 492 at a rate of 200 or so each day. Today I “only” went up by 115, but then I’ve put another low rated book up, so perhaps that is why?

I would have thought that the number of points I earned from these books should have increased as the book went up in the chart. However the rise in my TSR has been almost exactly linear over the whole period, which is very perplexing.

One issue is that, as far as I can see, I gain TSR points on the day I put a book on my shelf, whereas the book itself only gains points after 24 hours on my shelf (i.e. at midnight the next day). This means that if a book has gained a large number of backings on the day it is listed I have until midnight the day after to back it before its ranking begins to benefit from those initial backings. This is a useful “buffer” period for me to see if the book is going to take off or not.

The next thing to figure out is the much more difficult task of persuading people to put my book on a good shelf and then leave it there.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

What is authonomy really all about?

In philosophical mood today. I’ve been trying to get my TSR up, having picked a new book I liked the look of and put it on my shelf. So far it’s on three other shelves. Going back to look at it again, I find a message from someone else saying they “saw it on someone else’s shelf.” Curious as to whether it was my shelf they had found it on, I checked out the profile of the sender. On their profile they say they won’t back on a “‘quid pro quo’ basis as they ‘feel [that] destroys what this site is really about.’” Nothing to write home about there, surely? Except that, until recently, precisely this phrase was on my own profile. So, yes, whoever sent that message had indeed been looking at my shelf. And their remark begs the question, what is authonomy really all about? And, secondly, why am I there at all?

Before going down that road, that ‘Quid Pro Quo’ remark on my profile. I’d been away from authonomy for a few months and needed to change my promise of a quick return read, so I edited my profile. I still reviewed every book from whose author I’d received a review, just considerably later than had been normal in the past. The blind backings still kept coming in (just a backing, no comment). So I decided to just return the backing without a comment. In the end, because of my tracking system, which works using the comment I’ve left on their book, I did, actually, review them, if only so I could be sure I’d backed.

Now the reciprocal backing has been the model on authonomy for as long as I can remember. Indeed, I usually bend over backwards to find something to justify backing. The person whose book I’m reviewing is more likely to back my book if I’ve backed theirs. Well, fair enough, I probably am not gong to back something, and in fact I don’t back something, if it stinks. The problem arises when I’ve been backed by someone whose book is, frankly, poor. I do tend to hold my nose and err on the generous side, as a high probability of a return backing is an asset, and we all want to “win” authonomy, right? Which brings me nicely back to the first question: “what is authonomy all about?”

Harper Collins seemingly, view authonomy as some sort of self-regulating slush-pile, although they don’t very often put their money where there mouths are and offer the worthy winners an actual contract. Ironically, one book, at least, has found its way into print by them via an agent who spotted it on their site and submitted it via the “usual” method; and well before the book got anywhere near the hallowed territory of the editor’s desk. Their recent re-writing of the rule book seems to be an effort to make the system more effective in choosing books they might actually publish, so the jury’s out on that one.

Turning to the users, they seem to split into two camps. Those who want to “win” by fair means or, more usually, foul, and those who want critique of their work so it can improve (and, of course to “win”). Now, a professional critique of your ENTIRE book can be purchased for around £200 (for example from these people). Harper Collins will only read the first 10,000 words. I don’t think the investment of time and energy required to get even close to the desk is justified. Those jumping and screaming to get on the desk are deluding themselves. Worse, the amount of lying, cheating, sock puppetry, schmoozing, secret hurling of a single gold star and whatever other tactics are being employed only, as my messager so rightly says, propels work without commercial potential onto the desk and allows work which might sell like hot cakes languish out of sight. Unless the new scoring method proves to be extremely robust, the same issues will lead to the same outcome.

I don’t think I have the necessary stamina, or maybe even the right book, to get onto the desk. As I’ve already said, the editorial critique you get in return can be had remarkably cheaply. The point of using authonomy, as far as I can see, is that it is a form of social marketing. The one thing I liked about authonomy as compared to youwriteon, is that it is a more realistic model of what will happen to a book once it finally makes its way onto the shelves of a bookstore or onto amazon or into cyberspace as an e-book or whatever. The decision to back a book is a mirror of the decision to part with hard won cash. A book making progress on authonomy is a book drawing attention to itself. And, luckily for me, I am already sitting at number 6 in the “gay” chart, so my book is on public display already. The necessity of writing a “short” pitch helped me enormously, as I have a “strap line” for the book and a blurb ready for the day it makes its way into print.

So, going along the “social marketing” route, I’m starting this blog. Follow me, and I’ll follow you. See… old habits are hard to break!
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