Finding New Books…

reading                                                           bookshelfbookstore.blogspot.com

It’s not always easy to find books that you will enjoy, and very often I have set a book aside to come back to or have left it all together, and not without a sense of guilt. How do you find the books that you will really enjoy?

I enjoy browsing through bookshops, second hand and new, and finding an author whose work I haven’t yet delved into. I generally go by the blurb and the first few pages. The cover less so; I have learned over the years that the cover will not always give me an idea of what to expect. Some of the covers that have been less appealing to me have been those of books which I really enjoyed, and vise versa.  The old cliché rings true for me with books as well as for all of the other implied judgements we make!

I do look at Amazon’s recommendations, although they sometimes recommend my own work! I look at the emails they send and the recommendations on the site itself. They often give an accurate representation of my tastes.

I really appreciate recommendations from friends and other authors and will try both established authors and debut novelists. Don’t forget that every author was new to the craft at some point. We often cling to the authors we know and love but can miss some fantastic books if we don’t branch out. I have learned who to trust as far as book recommendations go and it has certainly expanded my horizon. Reading widely is important: push the boundaries and try a new genre, read something you ‘would never read’.

I read a lot of book blogs and there are a selection at the end of a previous post on blogging. Book bloggers are a fantastic way of finding new books and getting an overview of new releases, and sometimes classics I’ve missed. Their summaries are often more helpful to me than the reviews on various books sites.

Literary Prizes flag authors who I might not otherwise have found, this includes short story awards as I particularly enjoy reading short stories and collections. There are many book prizes, but if you find the ones that suit your tastes you can find some wonderful books.

I often find books on Pinterest, which I pin for later and I can go back to the list on my to-be-read board later and take a closer look to see if it is something I want to buy and read. It’s a great way of seeing the covers in a larger format and reading reviews.

Libraries are a good way of finding books, especially out of print editions. Having a library card is also a fantastic way of encouraging children to read.

Finally, bestseller lists. I left this until last because I don’t always love the bestsellers, and people’s tastes vary, but going to the bestseller shelves in bookshops and looking on-line will give you an idea of what’s popular. Moods and genres shift, and there is a wave of psychological thrillers. I have found some great books this way. Amazon has a list of kindle bestsellers. I have linked the fiction page, but you can find almost anything. I you are looking for a particular genre within fiction, the links are on their sidebar. Most of you are familiar with this but it’s worth a reminder.

What have you discovered that surprised you? Any recommendations?

Reading_in_the_Bookstore                                    www.fotopedia.com

 

So When Are You Going To Write A Proper Book, Then?

I am pleased to welcome the Director of National Flash Fiction Day, Calum Kerr, for a guest post on the short fiction form. His new collection, Lost Property, brings together four brand new pamphlets of flash fiction, featuring Singsong, Soaring, Burning and Citadel. The collection contains 83 stories that move from the hilarious to the sinister and demonstrates the unique nature of ultra-short fiction.

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If you are a writer of flash-fiction, short-stories, possibly poetry and maybe even non-fiction, this is a question which may be familiar to you. The person posing the question might be a complete stranger, maybe at some reading or signing event, but is more likely to be a friend or even a relative. You proudly show them your collection of stories or poems, or your book on how to knit cartoon characters, learn economics or install a Linux system on your PC, and they glance through it, nod appreciatively, and then they work their way towards the question.

“So. Well done. This looks good, doesn’t it?” is the opening move.

“Yes. I’m very pleased with it. I think it’s come out very nicely,” is your response.

“Must have been a lot of work.”

“Yes. But enjoyable. Apart from the editing, ha ha…”

“Ha ha, yes.” They nod and look through the book again, then up at you. “So…” they start, and this is where you should stop them, because you know what’s coming next.

“It is a proper book. It has a cover. It has loads of words in it. I did research and everything. People will buy and read it – okay, not in JK Rowling numbers, maybe, but some of them. It has an ISBN number and can be bought from Amazon and those funny old places that people used to go into. You know, bookshops.” Is what you want to say. But you don’t. Instead you let them continue.

“So… when are you going to write a proper book, then?” they ask, and you somehow restrain yourself from swinging for them.

Because, of course, they don’t mean to say that your collection or non-fiction opus is not a ‘proper’ book. They mean ‘when are you going to write a novel’. That’s what it’s all about, after all, isn’t it? Collections of things are nice, but they’re just little stories or poems, not a good chunky page-turner. Non-fiction books are useful, but you don’t settle down on the sofa on an autumnal afternoon to read them. They live on shelves until you have occasion to reach for them. No, they’re talking about the All-Powerful Novel and the place it holds in the public imagination as the pinnacle of writing and the thing that every writer is surely aiming for.

And this is the problem for writers, especially of flash-fiction or short stories. Because each of the small parts looks inconsequential; trivial. There might be many of them, and they might make up a 200 page collection containing 60-70,000 words, but still, you can see the joins; you can see where the writer started and stopped. Not like the seamless flow of a novel (which was surely written in a single, sleepless week of endless typing). And, of course, you are writing prose fiction, so surely you must be working your way up from these little things to try and join the big boys with their ‘proper’ books.

Now, don’t get me wrong, many flash-fiction and short story writers do have aspirations to be novelists, or at least have found an idea coming to them which is too big to cover in just a few hundred or few thousand words, and so are working towards a much longer piece. But that does not mean that they have finally, in some indefinable way, graduated to the big leagues. They have not left behind their childish play with those tiny tales and taken the brave step to write longer. They are simply following their muse where it takes them, and sometimes your muse takes you longer.

But all of those same flash-fiction and short story writers who are dabbling in the world of novels, at least those I know, still love and respect the short form. They are not what we write because we can’t manage the long things. They are the things we write because there is a value to a short story or a flash-fiction, an intensity, a chance at experimentation, and a specific purpose that you simply can’t achieve in the novel.

We don’t write stories because we are waiting for our turn to write a ‘proper’ book. We write stories because they need to be written, and because we love what they can do that all of your ‘proper’ books can’t.

So next time someone looks at your collection of flashes, poems, or your non-fiction work and seems about to ask that fateful question, stop them, point to the cover and ask them: “So, when are you going to read a proper book, then?”

calum-200x180   Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife – the writer, Kath Kerr – their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.

Blogging for Readers

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Last week’s post was on blogging for writers and I promised a post this week on blogging for readers. They deserve two separate posts in order to do them both justice. I post a few reviews, in amongst author interviews and I discuss different aspects of writing. Book bloggers do a wonderful job of reviewing and sharing books. I have bought several books based on the recommendations of bloggers whose opinions I trust. Some bloggers share books in one genre, be it crime, historical romance, literary fiction, young adult or science fiction, others read and review a vast range of books in one blog. In a previous post I shared a list of bloggers who I follow and whose posts are varied and informative.

So, what do you write and how?

I don’t want to be formulaic because the joy of different blogs lies in their individuality and their unique voice and layout. But the key points are important:

Book Cover

Ask the author or publisher for a high resolution image of the book, and make sure that it is clear and not too large or small for the post. Thumbnails can get lost in amongst your words but a billboard sized image can overtake the review.

Book Information

Include the ISBN number, publication date and publisher information to make it easy for people to locate the book. The genre of the book can also be a helpful indication for the reader. If a reader really enjoys, or doesn’t enjoy, a particular genre, it can help them to make a quick decision about whether to read your review or buy the book.

Synopsis

This is a crucial part of the review and, if you don’t want to include a whole synopsis, at least give a snapshot of the book to frame it for the reader. You probably wouldn’t see a film or a play unless you had a rough idea of the plot or the style, especially if you haven’t previously heard anything about it. Most people go on recommendations before they watch or read anything new, and your introduction can make or break their decision to read a book. Either take the full review or give an outline, and preferably before you give your candid opinion.

Your review

This is the meat of the post. It is your take on the book, your view of the style, the language and the story. Be honest, but it is best to avoid scathing comments. Some bloggers are asked by agents or publishers to review books, and others pick up books to review themselves. If you have been asked to review a book that you don’t connect with, be honest about what didn’t work and try to find the positives. If you really enjoyed the book your enthusiasm will be clear, and hopefully it will encourage others to pick up the book. Try to look at different aspects: the characters, their interaction with each other and the situations in which they are placed, the pace and style, the plot with it’s twists and turns, or the descriptive prose. Have fun and let your journalist’s hat run free.

Other reviews

Has the book been reviewed by the national press or magazines? Are there reviews by other well-known authors? These are worth sharing as they give the reader a better idea of the substance of the book. Quote from other reviews or from the press release. Most books have these quotes on Amazon, which will make them easier to find.

Author info

Does the author have credits or other publications? It is always interesting, although not essential, to gain some background knowledge on the person behind the cover. Do they enjoy travel? Do they have a PhD in an unusual subject? Have they previously been involved in an interesting job? Part of the reason why people enjoy author interviews is because we are all essentially curious (nosey) and it is intriguing to find out about the author or their reasons for writing the book. If readers enjoy the book, they will want to know where to find other material by the writer. Some readers find novels through reading short stories that they enjoy and then searching for books by the same author, and sometimes it works the other way around.

Contact info

This is helpful but not essential. In an age of what I would call ‘the social media explosion,’ many authors have blogs and websites and are on twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or any of the other social media sites. Readers like to connect with authors. Some authors are fiercely private, and little can be found out about them or their lives and writing, but most will at least have a website. Many author websites will have widgets which take you to their other sites.

Can you recommend any good book blogs? Do you review books? How has it helped you to find what you are looking for or, perhaps, surprise you with something new?

Book Release: ‘Take Me to the Castle’ by F.C. Malby

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Today is the release of my debut novel, ‘Take Me to the Castle.’ You can buy it on Amazon in paperback and on kindle. It can also be ordered in bookstores from January 2013.

Thank you for following my blog so far and I am enjoying your comments and your own posts. I wanted to let you know that I will be guest posting on some other writing blogs over the next few days. It would be great see you over at:

http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.co.at/ hosted by Mystery writer, Elizabeth Span Craig. She blogs daily and her website was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010, 2011, and 2012 (19/12/12).

http://www.aliventures.com/ hosted by Ali Luke, author of ‘Publishing eBooks for Dummies’ and a writing coach. Ali is full of information on writing and publishing and is a well-respected blogger. (20/12/12)

http://www.30daybooks.com/blog/ hosted by Laura and Brandon, who post great articles on marketing and publishing. Laura has been featured on CNN and has just released ‘Fire Up Amazon.’ (21/12/12)

Do leave comments and join in with the discussions. I look forward to seeing you there.