Where I’m at, by Ben Jeapes

Milford 98 Ben Jeapes

Young Mr. Jeapes at Milford 1998

Once upon a time there was a young man with the twin ambitions, not incompatible, of making it big in publishing and becoming a successful writer. How did he do?

Well, the publishing happened, for a good few years. It didn’t take him long to discover that the bits he enjoyed most were editorial work and hands-on production. The bits that are actually more necessary from a business point of view – acquisitions, marketing, royalties, accounts in general, strategy – tended to leave him cold. His ambition to grease his way up any of those particular poles was therefore limited from the start, which led to a career of middling editorial sort of work – books, journals, more books, more journals, more books and oh, a magazine –culminating in the creation and liquidation of his own company.

After that he rather felt he had had his fun in publishing and looked around for something with a compatible skillset requirement. Thus he found himself working in communications and marketing for a large computer network, accidentally becoming a technical writer in the process. His job was meant to be waiting for technical experts to write something, whereupon he would edit and publish it, but it soon turned out that everyone was happier if he talked to the technical experts, wrote it up on their behalf and then edited and published it. When redundancy struck he moved less happily on to a firm that manufactures scientific instruments, who had said they wanted someone creative, but were actually after a tame word monkey who would produce maybe 100-200 words a month that perfectly, via some process of telepathy, matched what the MD wanted that day. Any actual creativity very quickly got slapped down. It was not a happy arrangement, but it paid the bills.

But, meanwhile, the writing! What happened there?

To his great surprise, it came to the rescue. Eventually.

It all went swimmingly at first. The writing was very specifically science fiction – okay, and fantasy if pushed, but sf most of all. Stories were sprayed at Interzone – and other outlets, but mostly Interzone – until a few stuck. An agent was acquired, novels were written and even sold. Four in total. And then?

Well, that company that I, I mean he … I … he … oh, okay, I (you’d guessed, hadn’t you?) founded? It published science fiction. What else was this life-long sf fan going to publish? And it broke the subject. I’ve never been able to work out why. Maybe I looked too closely at what goes on behind the scenes – I saw the wooden supports that hold up the sets and suddenly could no longer suspend the disbelief. I can still read it but the drive to write it had just gone.

Phoenicia - JeapesThere again it’s possible I had just told all the stories that were bubbling inside me. I wrote a few more pieces, using up the last of the ideas bubbling away in the background. One of them (Phoenicia’s Worlds) [http://www.benjeapes.com/index.php/phoenicias-worlds/] actually got published, but most of it has just dwindled onto the backburner of my hard drive.

Meanwhile, while I was flailing around for income in the early years of this century, I encountered Working Partners  and became Sebastian Rook, writing the first three of the Vampire Plagues series – Mayan vampires in Victorian London, for readers aged <=12. That was fun, and I could use my genre experience to deliver that little extra to the plots (though I say it myself). The plot for book 1 came ready made, but I could make some suggestions that were retrofitted into the series background; I was consulted heavily on the plot for book 2; and for book 3 we all sat down in a room together and hacked the plot out from scratch.

My editor then changed jobs, inherited an adventure series in the name of a Real Life TV Celebrity, and offered me the chance to ghostwrite it. Not genre at all – at least, not my usual genre. But genre of a sort, and nicely paying too. Then, rather like a series of H-bomb tests causing something ancient and terrible beneath the Pacific to stir, this caught the attention of my agent, who had not had a lot to do with my career in the intervening years but whose attention I badly needed to catch.

At his suggestion I started working on a series of historical adventures, and fingers are crossed as to its success. No luck yet, but … I have come to the conclusion that every historical writer should be an sf writer first. No one knows they are living in the past. As a rule, everyone lives in the most present and up to date world they have ever known, even if it has standards and mores that are utterly alien to cultures that actually come later. For them this is normality and it must be presented as such, with all the important differences signalled to the reader via means other than an “As you know, Bob” speech every couple of pages. A 32-gun frigate may seem quaint to us but it’s as exciting as a starship to a young man from the late eighteenth century.

And while all that was going on in the background, the ghostwriting suddenly took off, with me not being paid just to write but also to plot and plan and develop the series. Which, when translated into pounds, = enough to live off, which is all you can really ask for, isn’t it?

And so that is where I am. By a series of utterly logical steps I am a publisher and science fiction writer who is not currently working in publishing or writing science fiction, and has a lurking suspicion that this is How It Is Meant to Be. At least for now. And really quite happy about it.

Keep watching.

bjeapes01Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least. www.benjeapes.com

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The Silicon Critic by David Langford

Milford participants often have distinctive personal crotchets when commenting on stories, and John Brunner’s (as I remember from the 1980s) was a particular sensitivity to repetition. Sometimes it seemed that the unintended re-use of a significant word too soon after its last appearance pained him more than a gaping plot hole. The “deliberate repetition for effect” card could be played only so often, especially if you hadn’t noticed the repetition of “repetition” and the fact that it’s now appeared four times in one paragraph.

Terry Pratchett was another author who worried about such things. In 1998 he invited me to write a little Windows application to monitor his own use of favourite words. This, he stipulated, was to be named Bicarb because the idea was to stop you repeating.

The computer screen here ripples and blurs to indicate a flashback. With (as we later decided) more enthusiasm than common sense, Chris Priest and I had ventured into selling home-made software as Ansible Information from the mid-1980s. Most of our products were deadly serious attempts to add new facilities to now-obsolete word processors running on computers of yore: one example was a utility called AnsibleIndex that could generate a book index of sorts from chapter documents written in LocoScript on the dread Amstrad PCW. If you remember that machine’s green screen, hideous slowness and oblong “floppy” disks, you are not alone.

aiq-headDespite our stern and earnest aims, cheerfulness occasionally broke in. One day for Chris’s amusement I fudged up an IBM PC-DOS program called Drivel that spewed out endless Extruded Fantasy Product titles. A Scroll of Steel, Gemhunter of Giantfalcon, Eye of Starnymph, The Bluebull and the Dreadflame, The Chaos Leperstaff … and so on, forever. “Make it more versatile and we could sell this!” said Chris, and Drivel duly became A.I.Q. (a name meant to suggest Artificial Intelligence, but deniably) with a wide variety of lexicons to generate cod Shakespearean verse, revolting recipes, banal aphorisms, terrible pulp SF and even – as a selling point for authors – plot ideas for short stories. All through the magic of the random number generator. An even less lucrative Windows version followed. By way of brand identity, the product logo was a chap with an ideally shaped head from a 1904 phrenology manual.

Somewhat more useful was Grease, which gobbles down your story or novel or dekalogy and spits out a report of the words most frequently used. That is, the significant words. Grease comes with an editable list of common words to be ignored, “the” and “is” and other basic nuts and bolts of prose. With these filtered out, the pitiless focus is on those distinctive words you resort to again and again, perhaps without consciously noticing. The specific inspiration for Grease was David Lodge’s 1984 academic comedy Small World, much enjoyed by both Chris Priest and myself. One minor strand involves a novelist’s traumatic discovery that his complete works have been analysed in just this way by fanatical researchers, who report that the significant word he most often uses is … “grease”. Now you know how programs get their names.

greaseExperimenting with Grease led Terry Pratchett to request Bicarb as a more finely tuned detector of embarrassment. Rather than merely counting distinctive words, this one looks for their repetition within a specified interval – 100 words by default, but I made that configurable and Terry may have changed it. Thus the use of a favourite word like “rebarbative” twice within a hundred-word passage will cause Bicarb to pause, silently highlight both occurrences, and await your horrified reaction.

I became acutely aware of all the significant reiterations in Terry’s test document, which was the first draft of Carpe Jugulum (1998). Refinements were added: besides the “always ignore” list of commonplace terms, there was clearly a need for an “ignore for this book project” list, which filled up with character and place names from Carpe Jugulum and Discworld in general. Terry seemed pleased enough with the results.

By then, Ansible Information was already fading away. Both Chris and I had found other things to do, and Bicarb never went on sale to our hapless customers. In fact Chris never saw it until this year, when in the course of some mysterious literary research he reacquainted himself with Grease and I suggested that with a few cosmetic tweaks to bring it up to date, Bicarb might also be useful. He tried it and reported: “Bicarb is a weapon of mass destruction! I ran it over Indoctrinaire, and crept away, limping and bleeding.” Just like a Milford session, then.

Ansible Information, you will be relieved to know, has long ceased trading. But many of its doomed products – including all those named above – can still be downloaded at no charge from https://ai.ansible.uk/. Can you resist learning whether your favourite word is “grease” or something even more alarming?


langfordDavid Langford, as his mother used to put it, hasn’t had a real job since 1980. Since then he has published lots of stories and books – most recently the column collection All Good Things: The Last SFX Visions from NewCon Press – won a number of awards and tried in vain to give up publishing the SF newsletter Ansible (1979-current). He spends too much time working as a principal editor, with John Clute, of the SF Encyclopedia. More at ansible.uk and news.ansible.uk.

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Response to a Flashy Challenge by Jim Anderson

So this past weekend (7 and 8 April), I’ve been taking part in Sci-Fi-London 48 Hour Flash Fiction 2018.  On the Saturday morning, I was given the title for the story I would write (Fully Immersed), along with a line of dialogue that must be included (“Think of the good times, when we thought it was never going to end.”) and an optional scientific idea (Earth starts receiving transmissions from the multiverse) to use if I so desire.  I then needed to write and submit my story, between 1000 and 2000 words, by Monday morning.

It was interesting ride.  As I write this, back during that weekend, the story is done, barring one last pass for proofreading, and what I find most entertaining is that the finished story bears little resemblance to my first musings of Saturday morning.

Typewriter 3There are a lot of things I don’t know about the event, such as whether each person entering gets a separate title and a separate line of dialogue, or whether they are reused, because I’d be curious to see what other people would do, or would have done, with the same title and line of dialogue.  Or the same line of dialogue and a different scientific idea.

But that’s idle speculation.  Where might some non-idle speculation take me?  It’s tempting to speculate about the difference between internal and external deadlines, as I’m much better, almost infinitely better perhaps, at honouring one than the other.  It’s tempting to speculate about trying to put together a story in just a couple of days, but this is something that other people have much more experience of than I do.

But let’s speculate differently.  I’m starting to think about writing in the same way I think about cooking.  Each story has its own set of ingredients, but I’ve watched enough Master Chef to know that a talented chef can take the same seemingly unenviable ingredients and make something spectacular, whereas I might make something that’s merely edible. And this is the thing I want to understand: how to write the Michelin star quality stories.

And this gets me to the main realization I’ve had this weekend.  I’m happy with the story I wrote.  It’s not perfect but it is beyond merely edible, I think.  But I could keep tinkering with it until the end of time.

When I’m doing my writing for work, mathematics papers or policy documents, I sometimes find myself in cycles where I’m changing the order of presentation, making changes to notation and terminology, but I’m making no essential changes to the story I’m telling.  There, I find it easy for me to let it go, because what matters more is the content.  Once I know the theorem is true and the proof is correct and complete, the finer details of readability don’t matter quite so much.

And that’s the lesson I need to bring into my fiction writing.  Stories are never finished; they are merely submitted.  Having to take a story from nascent beginning to submitted finish in 48 hours is a good reminder of this, and so roll on the next deadline!


jim_andersonJim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

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A Wild Tomorrow? by Matt Colborn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“If I were to write a new dream of the future it would…still be a dream and picture of the human race in its forest period.”

 So wrote the naturalist W.H. Hudson, discussing his far future utopia The Crystal Age (1887). It counts as an early contribution to the Wild Futures sub-genre.

This sub-genre concerns tomorrows where the life-habits of our distant ancestors have been reinvented. It involves future worlds where woodlands have been regrown, oceanic life restored and extinct species revived. Notable authors include Ursula Le Guin, Ernest Callenbach, Carol Emshwiller, Margaret Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson.

 Future PrimitiveThe short-story anthology Future Primitive: the New Ecotopias (1994), edited by Kim Stanley Robinson, gives a flavour of the sub-genre, and offers a broad agenda. The only thing about this volume I’d object to, these days, is the term ’Future Primitive.’ That is because the term ‘primitive’ has too many associations with nineteenth century ideas about the linear evolution of civilisations. These ideas too often justified the brutal treatment of ‘primitive’ indigenous people in the name of progress: hence Wild Futures as an alternative designation.

 In the introduction to the anthology Robinson rejects what he calls an unworkable model of the future as ‘existence in great industrial city-machines, with people as the last organic units in a denatured, clean and artificial world.’

Since Robinson wrote this, such an etiolated vision has re-emerged in the form of two bad ideas. One is the ‘Merge,’ where we somehow join with our technologies and become cyborg components of a gigantic, global, hyper-capitalist profit machine. Total immersion in virtual worlds would presumably allow us to ignore the total mess we’re making of our planet, at least until climate change and resource shortages end this entranced state, probably permanently.

 The other even worse idea is that our new technological capabilities make us ‘godlike’ and we’re therefore entitled to reshape the Earth according to our own needs. The most repellant variety of such visions include the ‘Good Anthropocene,’ where we allow the current mass extinction to continue and inherit a planet fit for humans only. The selfishness and anthropocentrism of this vision beggars belief, yet it has staunch advocates.

 Robinson responds to these denatured pictures by pointing out that evolution has given us bodies that crave experiences that cannot ever be fully satisfied technologically, and that ‘the world is not a machine we can use and then replace; it is our extended body. If we try to cut it away we will die.’ This suggests an urgent need for new, deep ecological future myths.

Half EarthThe biologist Edward O. Wilson, also critical of the ‘Good Anthropocene,’ offers a radical alternative in his book Half Earth, proposing a scenario where half the land surface of the Earth is given over to wilderness. Here, then, is the first breath of a different sort of future, where humans remember that they share the planet with other species who have an equal claim to the Earth. George Monbiot is another important voice, advocating extensive rewilding of the land and seas.

 The human side of such movements suggest a rediscovery of ways of life from our deep past and their partial reinvention for the future. This includes Jared Diamond in his book The World Until Yesterday. He suggests that there are things we might learn from contemporary indigenous cultures that have been mostly squashed by colonialism and globalisation.

World until YesterdayDiamond’s book proved controversial upon publication for a number of reasons. One of his critics, Wade Davis, suggested that ‘traditional societies do not exist to help us tweak our lives as we emulate a few of their cultural practices. They remind us that our way is not the only way. [my italics.]’ Davis went on to suggest that a consideration of indigenous cultures might ‘enrich our understanding of human nature and just possibly liberate ourselves from cultural myopia.’

 Wade Davis Review:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/09/history-society

 This latter comment seems to me equally applicable to social SF in general and the Wild Future sub-genre in particular. One major function of both is the ‘liberation from cultural myopia’ by the presentation of alternative, imaginary ways of life. A good example of this is Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home, (1985) set in a far future California with a reinvented Native American culture.

 Advocates of promethean tomorrows might be suspicious of all this, because high-tech and ‘green’ futures are often seen as mutually exclusive. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. Some writers even create hybrid ‘Wild-Tech’ futures: see the novels of Kim Stanley Robinson for examples.

 The Wild Future mode is informed by biology, ecology and anthropology, suggesting a re-enchantment of tomorrow and a greening of the Earth. It is a different sort of future myth, one that offers rich storytelling possibilities in futures where the forests have returned, the owls still hoot in the twilight, and we have rediscovered the wilderness within.


matt-colborn-mugshotMatt Colborn is a freelance writer and academic with a doctorate in cognitive science. He has written for the Guardian as well as SFX and Interzone magazines. He writes across the spectrum of speculative fiction. He published a collection of short fiction, ‘City in the Dusk and Other Stories,’ in 2013 and is currently completing a novel. His website is at http://mattcolbornwriter.blogspot.co.uk


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Imprecise Words and Their Allies by David Gullen

Typewriter 3I have fulminated about this at least once before. I’ve been doing a fair amount of critical reading recently and while my opinions on many things have changed over the years the ways some words are used still bug me for the same reasons. Here are a few of them and why they rattle my cage.

Almost, Seemed, Appeared
Pwimula Nesbytt pulled the saddle from Bismarck, her faithful battle-mole. She seemed to be upset about something.

Only seemed to be? And only about something. Do we care, do I need to worry? Either Pwimula is upset, or she isn’t. If she isn’t, don’t mention it. If she is, then you should say so, say why, and describe how she is upset – angry, tearful, irritated. Not doing so creates a false tension that implies the author, rather than the characters, is uncertain about what is happening.

Pwimula brushed away a tear as she unsaddled Bismarck. She laid her head against the side of her faithful battle-mole and listened to its faltering heart.

There’s a place in language for all words in the same way there is a place in the kitchen for everything that belongs in the kitchen. However, you don’t keep the milk in the oven or the iron in the fridge.*

I don’t like words like ‘seemed’, ‘appeared,’ ‘almost’ because they make action and emotion imprecise, and introduce uncertainty or doubt. That’s not to say they don’t work well in the right place:

‘How was she?’
‘She seemed to be upset. Then she laughed. I didn’t know what to make of it.’

He and She
I once became frustrated with the opening of a book because the main character was introduced as ‘She’. Page after page the novel wore on, and She did this and She did that. If the author had been in the room I’d have been begging on my knees, ‘For God’s sake, just tell me her name.’

This is an example of deliberate withholding for no good purpose. Another example of false tension. There’s something the reader needs to know and it doesn’t create drama, mystery or tension not telling them. In fact you’re doing your own story a disservice by not saying. The effect is distancing. And for me it is annoying.

Very rarely should the anonymous ‘He’ break the catch and slip through the window. It should at very least be the assassin, the randy lover or the desperate messenger. If it’s the hero of the story just tell us his or her name. Give the reader something to work with.

Of course ‘he said.’ And ‘she said.’ are almost always the best ways to tag dialogue.

Words ending ’ing’
There’s a place for these words (inflected verbs) but I try not to use them because I think they stifle description and flatten tone towards passive.

He was writing, he looked out the window and saw it was raining.

You can’t get away with writing ‘It rained.’ as easily as you can say ‘It was raining.’ You need to qualify ‘It rained’ with description, sensation. How was it raining? Falling like soft mist or stinging whips?

A good exercise is to go through a piece of writing, remove all your ‘ing’ words and replace them with more sense-driven phrases.

Bogus accents
There are two main ways of doing this – character speech and writing style, often over-seasoned with rampant anachronism. Too much of either is horrid.

Buboe sprang from his artful hidey-hole. ‘Gis ‘e’ ‘ere yer blimmin’ fancies, posh boy.’

‘Avaunt, blaggard, step thee kerb-wards, pronto!’ expostulated Fontleroi.

Cod formalism and mangled speech are not how you create texture and tone.

And it’s, like, completely bogus, dude. If you must use it sprinkle it in like seasoning, it’s not the main course.

So these are some of the usages that bug me, and I try to avoid them. I’m sure you have a few of your own.


*If I have in fact been getting this wrong all my life, please let me know.

gullen-dkg1-2012David Gullen was born in South Africa and baptised by King Neptune at the equator. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including New Scientist’s ARC, Albedo 1, and the Sensorama anthology from Eibonvale. He is a winner of the Aeon Award and been shortlisted for the James White Award. His novel, Shopocalypse, was published by Clarion (2013) and will be re-issued by NewCon Press. He is also one of the judges for the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. David lives in Surrey, England, with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold and too many tree ferns.

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Are You a Plotter, a Pantser — or a Puzzler? By Ruth Nestvold

Most writers have heard the question before: “Are you a plotter, or are you a pantser?” In other words, do you do a lot of outlining and planning before you start writing (plotters), or do you dive into a project with little or no pre-writing and write “by the seat of your pants” (pantsers)?

longshot nestvoldI was never completely comfortable with either term. On the one hand, I always knew I was more of a plotter than a pantser. Some of my writer friends can take a couple of prompts and immediately start writing. Pantsers barrel into the story and go for it, letting plot and character unfold as they write. For many of them, part of the magic of writing is discovering the story as they go. My late friend Jay Lake was a master pantser, and it baffled me how he could whip up a story out of little more than thin air. I can write stories from prompts too, many of my stories have been written that way, but I just can’t do the “immediate” part. I have to brainstorm and play with ideas first. More than anything else, I need to know the ending before I start. If I don’t, I invariably get bogged down somewhere in the middle and don’t know how to get out of whatever corner I wrote myself into.

On the other hand, plotting out every single chapter and every single plot twist before I start writing is nearly as foreign to my nature as spontaneously writing a complete story from a single first line. There are a couple of short stories I’ve written that I plotted out almost completely before writing them, most notably “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide.” It was necessary for that story, because each of the disasters had to follow the one preceding it, and the whole arc had to have a very strong increasing sense of inevitability.

But plotting every single scene like that for a whole novel? It would drive me crazy. I’ve tried it a couple of times. Plotters have a good argument in their favor: if you can plot out the entire novel ahead of time, then the actual writing is a breeze. The plotter can write faster because she knows what’s going to come next, every step of the way. This is the main point of Libbie Hawker’s great writing book, Take off Your Pants. I’ve integrated a number of her techniques into my own pre-writing – but I still find myself flunking out when it comes to planning a novel scene by scene before I start writing.

I would love to be able to write faster, but when I try plotting all the way down to the chapter and scene level, I get just about as stuck as I do when I try to write without any outline at all. The smart plotting books tell me I’m supposed to have this kind of a scene here and there and elsewhere (pinch point, drive for goal, black moment, thwart, fun and games, or whatever the individual writer happens to call it), but while I’m in the pre-writing phase, for the life of me I don’t know what that scene will end up being. I have the basic structure, but the details defeat me.

Puzzle 1Then at some point, a stumbled across a term that immediately resonated with me, an alternative to the two writing poles of plotters and pantsers — the puzzler. And I realized that’s me.

I start with a whole bunch of pieces, but I don’t get them all lined up neatly in chronological order before I begin. My usual process starts with brainstorming basic plot, characters and setting, and doing the initial research. (I rarely write anything that doesn’t require research.) As I brainstorm, I jot down ideas for potential scenes, which I will do my best to organize in some kind of orderly fashion, often using ideas from various plotting books like Libbie Hawker’s, or Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, or Joseph Campbell’s quest structure.

But often before I fill out the main plot points between the beginning to the end, one or another of the scenes I’m brainstorming grabs me, and I have to start writing it. And then another, and another. While I’m writing these random scenes, I also start getting to know my characters better, which gives me a better idea of the kinds of complications that would fit their personalities. And so I start jumping backwards and forwards, filling in the blanks, puzzling out the plot as I go, working on this part and then that, finishing whatever works best first, and then using what I learned there to help me with other sections of the novel.

Puzzle 2And so it grows like a puzzle, from the edges and the center.

To a plotter, the process probably sounds very random. But neither am I writing by the seat of my pants. I can’t even start without a bunch of notes on characters and scenes and plot arc and usually a fair amount of research. But in the many years I’ve been writing, I have realized that I can’t seem to get a handle on my characters until I “see” them in action in a few scenes. So it isn’t until I’ve thrown them into their first conflicts and seen how they react that I can start fine-tuning the plot points that will get me from the beginning to the end.

I cannot claim to have come up with the term “puzzler,” but when I googled it to try to find the brilliant originator, all I found were other writers who also heard the term “puzzler” at some point or another and happily adopted it as their own.

Me too.

The original version of this post was published on the blog “Indie Adventures” as “By Popular Demand: Pantsers, Plotters, and — Puzzlers!” on September 16, 2012.



Ruth NestvoldRuth Nestvold recently puzzled her way to a new novel, Ygerna, a prequel to her Pendragon Chronicles series (consisting of Yseult and Shadow of Stone so far). Her short stories and novellas have appeared in such markets as Asimov’s, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, and Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her work has been translated into German, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, and Hungarian, and been nominated for the Nebula, Sturgeon and Tiptree Awards. The Italian translation of Looking Through Lace won the Premio Italia speculative fiction award.

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Book Release Blog Tours by Mark Iles

I’ve been involved in blog tours for a number of years and found that in many cases there’s a confusion between this and the press release. The simple differences are that in a blog tour each posting needs to be different from the others and run in succession, while with a press release the same information is given out to all and saundry and released at the same time.

The blog tour is exactly what it says, a tour of different blogs. Why, therefore, would anyone want to go from one blog to another if they all contain exactly the same information?

A Pride of LionsWhen hosting a tour I ask for the following:

  • Short author Biography
  • Pictures of author (jpegs only) 400kb or less
  • Book covers and/or other pertinent images – again around 400kb
  • Replies to my questions
  • Book buy links
  • Multimedia links
  • Blurb of novel
  • Short excerpt of novel which no-one else is using that ends in a hook
  • If part of a blog tour, date required of posting

I also ask that authors don’t send me formatted and framed ‘media kits’, nor have images that need to be downloaded from the internet. I’ve often received ‘kits’ with point 48 font splashed across them in different coloured texts, each of which I’ve returned. These ‘kits’ cause extra work for the host and can be irritating to say the least.

ROAR OF LIONS_eBook_optWhen I know the date that one of my books is due for release I approach a group of like-minded authors to see if they’d be interested in hosting me, and of course return the favour when they’re recruiting for their own tours. During the promotion I quite often see the ratings of my other books improve too.

Advertising the blog tour several days in advance on Twitter and FaceBook etc. is important, but don’t forget to include in each blog the link to the next host in line. This way readers can easily ‘follow the tour’.

On the subject of ‘following the tour’ it’s essential that different excerpts are used in each blog, ending in that all important hook. This way readers will want to know what happens next and find themselves caught up in the tour to find out what happens, and then hopefully they’ll purchase your  book by the end of the tour. Therefore the different content in each blog will be the excerpt and the host’s questions and answers.

Cull CoverWhile undergoing a course in Copywriting we were taught that a blog should be between 500 and 800 words in length, while some blogs I write have targets of around 300. It’s quite difficult to keep within these boundaries with book blogs (they can quite easily end up more like features) but I usually manage to keep it to around 1200 words.

Research shows that people will usually only remain on a webpage for 10-20 seconds, so you need to grab their attention and hold it. One way to do this is by using images, hence the book covers. It’s also been shown that readers browse webpages in an E or F figure – across the title, the middle and the end. Breaking the blog up into short paragraphs, or ‘bite-sized’ chunks helps readers easily digest the blog, rather than them be faced by an off-putting wall of words.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that if you add up the twitter followers of each member in the tour, and they retweet, you’ll be hitting a surprising amount of potential readers. On a recent blog tour our groups combined twitter followers exceeded 90k, a decent audience by anyone’s standards.


20150517_108 (2) - CopyMark Iles

Mark is the author of three novels, a short story collection, four novellas, a non-fiction book and an App. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Write to Fight, Escape Velocity, Auguries and Monk Punk. With over forty years’ experience in the martial arts and a 9th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, he’s written features for the magazines Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, profwritingacademy.com and calmzone.net. He also runs a writer’s group for the British Science Fiction Association, along with The Scribe for Veterans with the help of The Royal British Legion.

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