Update on Book Whirl scam

Read this is you’re unfamiliar with this Book Whirl gig

I received another call today. This time, I had my wits with me, and asked the lady (whose English is quite atrocious) how the hell they got my phone number. She started sprouting some bullshit about Whois and that my phone number is listed there. Did I google my domain, the Book Whirl lady asked, and I’m sorry but I don’t spend all day googling myself, so after having told her firmly (without invocation of the f-word) that I did not appreciate this stuff, all the while interrupting her sales spiel, and getting off the phone, I looked up my domain at Whois.

Of course there is no phone number listed there. I would have been really surprised if there was. There isn’t even a country of residence listed there. Not even a domain owner listed there, although the domain name is the same as my name, so that kinda gives it away.

My theory stands: one of their employees used to work for Amazon and scammed the Amazon KDP author database.

The Book Whirl lady was further trying to sell me their author plans, and assured me they signed some “successful” authors. I’d love to know who signs for this kind of pushy tactic. Poor suckers who are clueless and unconnected to places where they can get info for free. Wonder how much they charge.

Really, people, I’m astonished that with the internet, with info at your fingertips, so many people still fall for scams like these, and that so  many people believe and follow the claptrap brought out by so called “marketing” setups that just take your money and do what you could do yourself for a hefty price. Not only that, because you care a lot more about your stuff than they are ever going to, you’re likely to do it much better.

Update on Book Whirl scam was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Photography: the wild cliffs of the Malabar Headland

This is seriously the wildest scenery along all of the Sydney coastline. You’re in the middle of a large city, and there is nothing except cliffs and bushes. Of course the Malabar Headland is known for the sewerage treatment plant, but since that is now all covered and treated an pumped out to sea, there is no smell or there is nothing much left there in the way of infrastructure.

To get to the headland, you can either follow the path from the very south end of Maroubra Beach, or take the little path that starts at the car park at the end of Fisherman’s Road. At this place, there is a fence, but someone cut a giant hole in it a long time ago, and the track that continues on the other side is clear.

The headland from Long Bay.

Malabar headland December 2014-1

Last year, I photographed this bunker from the golf course on other side of the bay. I thought it was the funky bunker that sits on the rocks south of Maroubra beach, but I worked out that it has to be a different one.

Malabar headland December 2014-2

Here is proof: there are two funky bunkers.

Malabar headland December 2014-3

The cairn at the headland’s highest point.

Malabar headland December 2014-5

View to Maroubra, Bondi (the tall buildings) and the city.

Malabar headland December 2014-6

There are some really serious cliffs along this part of the coast.

Malabar headland December 2014-7

Some Pimelea flower that I’ve never seen before and I’m too lazy to identify right now.

Malabar headland December 2014-11

Photography: the wild cliffs of the Malabar Headland was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Why you should write contemporary romance, even if you never publish it

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Anyone who knows me will also know that I’m not a great fan of romance. I’ve read a good deal of it (eons ago) and while I don’t hate reading it, I find other genres much more interesting.

But I think to be able to write contemporary romance is a great skill. Genre books often have romantic subplots, and it’s not unusual that the romance feels forced. Moreover, it’s likely that genre books have characters, and that you’d like the characters to be full and well-developed.

Writing contemporary romance can help immensely with both.

In contemporary romance, you strip away everything that makes a setting cool. You take away the space ships, the magic, the historical context, and you’re left with just characters and an everyday setting that’s well-known to all readers and needs no explanation…

Leaving the author to craft a story solely based on the characters and the developing of their relationship.

To the non-romance writer, it might seem that the daily tasks of the characters are full of “mundane, trivial shit” that we do ourselves day in day out. You know, cook, eat, go shopping, catch the bus to work. Stuff like that. Bo-ho-ring!

Yes, if you look at it that way, it is boring.

But. Big but.

Every action the characters perform, every choice they make, builds their personality. Don’t believe me? Look at these three guys:

1. Goes to the gym regularly.
2. Hates gyms with a passion.
3. Goes to the gym no matter what come hell or high water and gets upset if he can’t.

Can you see character types form in your mind from just these three life choices?

These little, insignificant, boring life choices shape the supposedly “mundane shit” that your characters do. Every. Single. Step. If they see someone trip, do they help? How often do they ring their partner during the working day? Do they perform well in their job or do they hate it? Add up all these things, and you have a fully-formed character. It requires a lot of disciple (no, you can’t throw in a gun chase if a scene gets boring) and makes you really think about how to portray characters, what makes them likable or what makes people go “eew, no” in a nuanced way that’s not over the top.

Characters acting way over the top is one of the ways to tell a new writer from a more experienced one. Writing contemporary romance, even if you never sell a single word of it, is a great way of learning how the environment shapes the character.

Why you should write contemporary romance, even if you never publish it was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Observations on the Dutch SFF market

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(Image because no post about anything to do with the Netherlands can get away with not having a totally cliche tourist shot)

Last week, Amazon announced the creation of Amazon.nl, the Dutch store. Previously, people in the Netherlands were buying at either the US or UK Amazon stores and paying a $2 “delivery charge” (pleaseplease don’t get me started on this BULLSHIT).

It’s quite a coincidence, because just last month I published a Dutch version of This Peaceful State of War, just for fun (see here on Amazon.nl or Kobo. Also on Google Play).

Anyway, as you may remember, I was there last year, and I thought to scope out a few bookshops to see what was on offer in SF/F. I was shocked. SHOCKED. The offerings in SF/F in Dutch bookshops are SO EYEBLEEDINGLY APPALLING, the only time I found a locally-published book, I bought it. ONE FRAKKING BOOK*. Most of the stuff (I mean–the other three books on the shelf) was translated George R R Martin and Robert Jordan. Holy crap, what was going on there?

So I decided to poke around a bit, to see why this is.

I came across Theo, a SFF fan in the Netherlands on Twitter (@uitgeverijmacc) and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

First, his comments about the “scene”:

SF in Holland…

Well, we used to have very good SF writers in Holland in the seventies and Eighties. We had Felix Thijssen, who wrote a series of books for young boys about an astronaut who was trying to find a new place to live for humankind, because the earth was heading towards the sun. The Adventures of Mark Stevens. Really enjoyed those books. In Belgium there still is (it’s almost Holland) a very good SF writer, Eddy Bertin. A very nice man. But he doesn’t write much anymore.

At the moment there is not much SF in the Dutch bookstores. Tais Teng is one of the few who really writes very good SF novels. The man has such a vivid imagination and is a fantastic artist. He made the cover of some of our SF novels (http://www.uitgeverijmacc.nl/index.php?page=science-fiction) the Perry Rhodan novel Groeten van het Sterrenbeest is from his hand.

Perry Rhodan is the longest running SF book series in the world. A pulp series which started in 1961 in Germany and its still running. The first Dutch translation dates from 1971.

Thomas (Olde Heuvelt) is also a very good writer indeed. He earned his success in the USA and England. But he writes mainly fantasy/thriller with a bit of horror.

On the other hand, there are a few small publishing companies in Holland that start to make a difference. The big companies don’t do a lot of SF anymore, but the costs for the smaller companies are a bit different and modern techniques make it easier to publish for those companies.

We, (Macc Publications, http://www.uitgeverijmacc.nl) have several new SF writers. Peter van Oosterum wrote a very good medical SF novel, het Rupert Jones experiment (The Rupert Jones Experiment) and we translated Jeff Carlson Plague Year in Dutch (Het Jaar van de Plaag)

And there are a few new SF authors coming up.

I myself wrote a few short Perry Rhodan SF stories. One of them is published in Terraanse Vertellingen (Stories from Terra). This novel contains a collections of original Dutch short SF stories. And within a few months there will be another collection of short Perry Rhodan SF stories published in a, for Holland unique, fanbook.

So there is a lot going on, but it is sad that we have to work hard to get them into the bookshops, because there are some very good novels on the market who deserve more attention.

OK, so obviously there is plenty going on. But then why are the bookshop SFF shelves so incredibly sad?

I asked him some further questions:

It would seem to me that POD technology could make small print runs profitable which would benefit local writers over foreign ones. So why all the translated bestsellers and no local talent?

Local talent is mainly for the smaller publishers in Holland, yes. A bit like I do. The bigger company’s just want to do the big ones, but they are beginning to feel the heat.

Also, POD is getting a problem over here. There are POD publishers who benefit from the lack of knowledge. They ask a lot of money, and make books that are to expensive and with no editing at all. So a lot of those writers are very disappointed and did not have a fair chance. The books could have been a success if they would have went to a decent publisher.

Yup. Vanity presses are a problem here, too

Small presses could do very well in this environment. We have a similar situation in Australia, and small press is doing quite well. Why is there none of this fiction in bookshops?

The distribution in Holland is a bit expensive. There is one company left who takes care of everything, so it is a monopoly really. So it is not that easy to be distributed when you start your business. On the other hand, the bookshops must notice you. Because a lot of readers buy there books online, the bookshops are going through a difficult time. They just don’t have the money to buy new books for their shops.

This looks like distribution is a killjoy. I don’t know what their returns system is, but since the shelf stock is so terribly conservative, I bet the conditions for shops are terrible.

Why do bookshops keep so little SF/F on their shelves full stop? Either English or Dutch, there just isn’t any on the shelves.

Some of them do. There are shops that are specialized in SF/F, but not many. If they want to survive, they must have what they sure they will sell. And that is not SF. On the other hand, if you give it no attention, you won’t sell it.

Where do Dutch genre readers buy these books?

On the internet (www.bol.com) And there are quite a lot of SF and Fantasy conventions throughout the year with thousands of visitors. (Elf Fantasy Fair, Castlefest, keltfest etc…) Every big and small publisher is there with his books.

Is the book trade somehow so stifling that nothing gets through?

Yes, it is a bit. Well, The internet is killing the normal bookshop, and that’s a shame.

That’s a problem worldwide.

So it seems that there is a small industry, that SFF gets sold online and at cons. A lot of fans read in English and get books in the same places everyone else does. It seems to me that the self-publishing movement is yet to really take off, but maybe the presence of Amazon will make that easier. I don’t know. If you’re familiar with some other issues that stop SFF being sold in shops in the Netherlands, please let me know in the comments.

* The ONE locally-published book I found was Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. He also writes in English and is a Hugo nominee. I saw on his website that this book will be out in English in 2015.

Observations on the Dutch SFF market was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Should you self publish, the 2014 edition

Way back in 2011, when self-publishing was new, I asked the same question in a number of blog posts (some of which on my old livejournal). Mostly, back then, the question “Should you self publish?” was fraught with angst over scuttling one’s literary career and about quality.

No one really cares about self-publishing damaging literary careers anymore (because it doesn’t), and the quality issue… yeah. Meh. Crap gets published. Get over it. Sometimes it even sells. And some of it sells a lot better than my books. So there. *shrugs*

I did make one comment, though, that still holds, even if it does so for reasons other than those I mentioned when I first made the comment.

If you arrived at this page by googling “Should you self publish”, then you probably shouldn’t. Or at least not yet.

Because when you google this or anything about writing or publishing, you are very likely to end up with lots of links to vanity presses. Read David Gaughran’s post on vanity presses and how they’re becoming intertwined with reputable publishing companies (I’m looking at you, Random Penguin). And if you know so little about the publishing industry that you need google to tell you whether you should self-publish, you’re probably at risk of being ripped off.

This is related to the feeling that self-published writers have expressed: that they’re sick of doing all the non-writing stuff that is required to sell books: the editing, the formatting, booking ads, blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts. They would like to be taken care of, and let someone else do this work.

Well, I got news: it’s not called SELF-publishing for nothing. It means that you do all the work. It means that you make the decisions. And you have to keep making decisions and doing stuff all the time. There are many things that you have to do that you didn’t even know existed before you self-published. It’s a lot of work, and it’s relentless. You should be well-informed. You should continue to learn, because the ground is constantly shifting under your feet.

On the other hand, there is no person in the world who is going to bat harder for your books than you. If you have an idea, you can do something about it. You don’t need to ask anyone. You just do it. But you have to actually, y’know, do it. If you feel that you don’t want to do the work, you should find a regular publisher.

Should you self publish, the 2014 edition was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Why Halloween is never going to be big in Australia

Hallloween sceneWhy Halloween is never going to be big in Australia. A post in pictures.

So why don’t we do Halloween? Apart from the fact that there is no cultural history, isn’t Halloween supposed to be held on a dark and stormy night, when winter is just around the corner? Well, look at Australia at this time of the year.

It’s late spring.

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It’s hot.

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Daylight saving means it’s light until 8pm.

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Everyone is talking about going to the beach.

Maroubra April 2014-22

The streets are lined with flowering Jacarandas! I can seriously not think of anything less spooky.

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Why Halloween is never going to be big in Australia was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

New covers for the Icefire Trilogy

I have been talking about this for a while. Yes, the trilogy needed new covers. And yes, I also like the old ones. They’re effective and quite distinct. But when you have them on full screen (and it’s even worse when you print an image), you can see that the images are lowres. And some of the artwork is really rough.

I had been trying to update the crummy typography, but couldn’t get it to work. What I needed was a crash & burn.

Here they are!

(Whoa! WordPress is playing silly buggers with the media library again. I intended the covers to show up small, but that doesn’t look like working unless I manually re-size them. Bleh. You can see all the detail now)

New covers for the Icefire Trilogy was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants