Blurred Lines Between Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing

I came across a science fiction book recently in WH Smith that I thought sounded interesting. I didn’t want to buy it, but I thought I might record the title  and author and read it sometime in the future. I happened to find it in my public library a week ago, so I borrowed and took it home to read.

The production values seemed OK and it looked professional. But I didn’t know the name of the publisher. (I won’t name the book, author or publisher). I started reading. The prologue and introductory material was a bit tedious, and then I started the first chapter. The subject matter was OK and probably quite fascinating, but the style was what I would consider poor. Lots of passive sentences, cliched expressions, and long winded sentences with inappropriate subordinate clauses. All things that a good critique group would have helped the author pick up on and resolve.

I could see that this would be a real struggle to read so I decided to give up on it. I am fairly strict in not persevering with books that don’t at least hold my interest or have some sort of quality about them.

Then I wondered a bit about who the publisher was so I looked them up.

They didn’t say they were a vanity publisher or that they helped authors who wanted to self-publish, but they did go on about how they could provide design and production services, so I do wonder if they were really a vanity publisher in disguise. I suspect that the book had been given a nice production treatment, but had not been vetted editorially and probably only proof-read and not edited for style.

I’m not sure how it got into WH Smith though. A good effort on the part of the author I suspect. But I wonder if he would have benefited as well from some honest feedback at a writers’ circle or online critique group?

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Review of Iain Banks iPhone App

Iain Banks iPhone AppVery intriguing!

As a fan of Iain Banks (see my article on his Wasp Factory), and also a writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy, this is an amazing insight into the mind of one of the world’s best SF writers. I was really interested in how Iain wrote his books – did he plan meticulously, or was he a seat of the pants writer. The answer having read this seems to be that he does a bit of planning, but that this isn’t exhaustive. For instance the information on characters and locations is limited to a list really. But there is also what amounts to a 15 page synopsis of Transition as well, which is quite detailed. So perhaps a bit more of a planner than say Stephen King?

So what do you get on the App:

Free to everyone:

  • Timeline of Iain’s books
  • RSS feed of Iain news

Unlockable content:

  • 3 page list of characters and places from Transition
  • 15 page synopsis of Transition
  • Video interview about the context of Transtion
  • Video interview about the context and timeframe of Transition
  • 2 part Video interview about “The Concern”
  • 17 page essay on The Spheres – which I think has something to do with Surface Detail
  • Video interview about Surface Detail

As far as I can work out the videos are not available on YouTube.

One complaint about the written content is that it’s not very readable on the iPhone – seems difficult to zoom in – perhaps the publisher could have reflowed these as ePub files rather than what look like PDFs? But all in all if you’re a Banks fan and/or a SF writer the app is well worth getting.

To unlock the app you need to either scan a barcode in the paperback edition or if you have the hardback you are asked for a word from a certain page and line in that edition.

I do wonder though if anyone would want all this information if they weren’t a big Banks fan, so is putting a lock on really necessary?

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Hell has its Demons: Nearly Finished Character Dossiers

I am currently working on my character dossiers for Hell has its Demons. These documents are really everything I need to know as a writer about the major character of my novel. I use a template from Nancy Kress‘s Creating Dynamic Characters, and find it very useful for considering all angles of my most important characters.

In Hell has its Demons I have seven major characters, and I have 2 and a bit left to do. Jake, Isabel, Bifrons and John of Gaunt are complete, while I have nearly finished the dossier for the main baddie, Edmund Hope. Then I need to move onto Jake’s father John Haukwake.

I wasn’t initially sure whether to do a whole dossier for him as he isn’t in the story all the way through. But he is quite significant, as Jake has major issues with him and he is also the husband of my main female character Isabel.

Lastly there is Roger, my Oxford academic and astrologer. Roger is one of the main viewpoint characters along with Jake, so he’ll need quite a bit of work.

Once I have finished these off I am planning to work on my scene summaries, which will detail what happens in each scene, how the characters’ arcs are developed, and also make note of any settings and minor characters that I need to flesh out. By way of variation I did one of these today. It was harder than I thought it would be. Partly I think because I had already started writing the first part of it – so perhaps too many preconceived ideas!

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Feedbooks distribution seems to be bringing in the readers

Feedbooks
Image by steven and darusha via Flickr

I am really enjoying using Feedbooks over the last couple of days. My first story, The Human Factor, has now had over 80 downloads, which I think is fairly awesome really. It does seem that Science Fiction seems to do quite well. My other stories, The Honor of Rome and Tale of Tiel, which are historical and fantasy respectively, haven’t done as well, but still have quite a few downloads.

I am really hoping that some of the readers provide some comments as well. I would really love to see what people think.

I also started reading another writer’s work on there, a chap called Ian Sales. I found his work to be of really high quality, which is reassuring as it seems that decent writers are posting their work on the site. I would encourage you to go and read his Amber Room if you have the chance.

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