Reviewing Indie Books: The stories so far…

As we re-open the review list for indie authored books this week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore reflects on what she has learned so far about indie publishing from reviewing.

As a rule, I enjoy reading book reviews. I scan the pages of the main British newspapers two or three times a week, looking not only for the formal recommendations but also the reader-recommended novels. I read those little cards on the shelves in Waterstones written by their staff, and I read other book reviewers’ blogs. I even read The Economist‘s arts section to see which book they have allowed to rise to the top of the pile. If they are reviewing a fiction book, it’s usually interesting (if not good).

But do I ever read the books that are recommended by others?

That’s an obvious reason for reading a review, to get a recommendation. But let me give you the other reason I read reviews. Because they tell you so much about the reviewer too. Continue reading

Mind the gap… The filming of Lawrence Block’s A Walk among the Tombstones

This week, allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock discusses the film adaptation of Lawrence Block’s novel A Walk among the Tombstones, currently being filmed in New York.

This blog doesn’t often cover issues of writing technique, not least because there are plenty of other authors, editors and bloggers out there covering the topic in great detail. Among them is a fond favourite of allonymbooks, the acclaimed New York crime writer Lawrence Block, whose many excellent books on writing technique are as brilliantly readable as they are thoroughly useful. Many years ago, I had the benefit of listening to Block wax lyrical on the power of the imagination for the reader. I was at a workshop in which another budding writer asked Block whether the many bars and churches visited by his dark and brilliant creation, the PI Matthew Scudder, were actual places in New York. The budding writer was concerned that if the places weren’t real, how would they be believable in the novel. Block very patiently defended his position that it didn’t matter if they were real or not, what mattered was that one wrote about them convincingly, for if they were real in the mind of the writer then they would be real in the mind of the reader. If one believed in a fictional character, then surely…?

That layer of trust between author and reader is always stretched when a book reaches adaptation stage and becomes a film or television programme. There are so many detectives, policemen and PIs who have been reinterpreted in the flesh that the path currently being trodden by Liam Neeson as he takes on the mantle of Matthew Scudder is not a new one. From Continue reading

Indie Book Reviews (2)

This week Evie Woolmore reviews a short story and a set of short stories, both rich with atmosphere, and a historical novel full of detail.

Leah and her Twelve Brothers by William Saunders (available at Amazon UK and US)

This collection of short stories has both a timeless and a very specific period feel to it, fusing a sort of Edwardian curiosity about the world with some quite contemporary touches. Leah waits at home while her twelve brothers explore the world, and she receives from each of them four gifts, borne by somewhat caricatured natives of the cities they are visiting. Leah weaves a story from each set of gifts, and then ponders its significance with one of three gentleman callers.

It is an interesting premise for a story collection – something of Sophie’s World meets Aesop’s Fables – and they often work well when woven together with a theme or narrative. Indeed in this instance, the collection allows the author to explore some quite philosophical and metaphysical ideas, as well as some moral ones. Leah is in some ways the most interesting of the characters, though for this reader the repetitive format of her receipt of the gifts, the encyclopaedia entries, and then the long opening descriptive prose passages of each story could have taken more variety. For while we learn much about Leah’s imagination, we don’t learn much about her character. Her male companions are rather stifling of her at times, and she never really develops very much, Continue reading

Decline and Fall at the BBC: are books taking a beating?

John Dugdale’s blog for The Guardian this week about the decline of proper arts coverage and critical review on the BBC was thought-provoking. His observation that there is virtually no adequate quality television programming by the BBC on the arts, in particular books, was a chilling reminder of how the emphasis in so many parts of the media has moved away from in-depth discussion and towards the visual and the superficial. Although the BBC’s radio channels still give quite a lot of coverage to books, it seems that in a world of ever-increasing headlines, we lack feature articles. We value pictures over words. His concluding paragraph also cleverly pointed out a startling contradiction in the BBC’s same television programming: its reliance on literary adaptations for so much of its television drama.

The BBC’s mission to educate has long been sublimated to its desire to entertain, and in a generation when education itself has become unfashionable, Dugdale’s point that “the tone increasingly required of presenters, in arts output as in science or history films, is boyish or girlish enthusiasm” suggests that all informative programmes have been given the gloss of celebrity and shallowness. We will be better convinced by what we are told if the teller looks good and sounds cheerful. Certainly, Sky’s The Book Show, while masquerading as ‘serious’ programming on Sky’s Arts channel and with the clearly well-read Mariella Frostrup in the chair, still manages to land only a glancing blow on critical reception, largely because the people it interviews are authors talking about their own books. It is theequivalent of the glossy women’s magazine reading of literature: two column inches summing up a plot and its readability for airport layovers or the beach.

Does it matter that television seems to be opting out of its responsibility to the other arts? Several commenters on Dugdale’s blog noted that the BBC’s radio coverage of books is very good in both scope and depth, and it implies that there is something about the spoken word alone that gives the space for contemplation. People who listen to radio probably have more time to listen and think: it is the same principle that applies to a film and its music – we pick up the significance of a single camera shot immediately, but it takes several seconds to grasp the interpretation the music is providing. One cannot appreciate the depth of a radio discussion in a five second burst, flicking from channel to channel. And so perhaps there is just more room in radio to do justice to proper critical discussion of literature.

The difficulty is that the BBC has set the benchmark for so long for what is possible in television, that when it falls short – when any TV channel falls short – we feel short-changed. This rather casual approach to books is also demonstrated in the BBC News website coverage of literature. Since the new year, two very simplistic pieces of journalism purportedly about indie publishing have been put on their website, neither of which does any justice to the issue at all, and are hardly good advertisements for quality journalism either. The article ‘Do you have the write stuff to be a novelist?’ reported on a self-publishing author who, though surely interesting, is not remotely representative of his indie peers when he describes receiving only “six or eight rejections” from print publishers before turning to self-publishing.

Worse still, the article ‘The authors who are going it alone online – and winning’ was in fact comparing John Locke to Joanna Mallon and Amanda Hocking, the latter two saying just the opposite ofthe title: that indie-publishing was not the right route for them at all. Again, hardly the sort of quality, in-depth journalism that the BBC was once renowned for, and about as utterly  unrepresentative of indie publishing as it could be.

The BBC has had plenty of criticism lately, and this blog is not leaping on that bandwagon. But if the web articles are anything to go by, it shows that the BBC’s visually-led presence and pursuit of a strong internet ‘headlines’ brand is not compatible with the in-depth critical engagement required to reflect adequately the longer written form.

In other words, the BBC is not fit to feed the book world, merely to pluck the best of its fruits for reinventing in a form most suited to their aims. Not ours.

Guest Post by Tahlia Newland of Awesome Indies

This week Tahlia Newland, founder of Awesome Indies, writes a guest post about the importance of review sites in the new publishing

 

The advent of ebooks and print on demand technology have revolutionised publishing. For the first time ever, it is relatively cheap and easy for anyone to publish a book. That is wonderful news for the authors with excellent stories who just missed out on getting a publishing deal. Such authors can now take their books directly to their readers, and if they have a professional attitude, get the help they need and follow the exact same steps as those taken by a traditional publishing house, their book can be as good as anything put out by a mainstream publisher.

In that scenario the reader gains access to many great books that they would never otherwise see, sometimes for no other Continue reading

Never judge a book… by a cover you can’t remember?

What was the last book you read on your Kindle? And the one before that?

Now, without looking at either your Kindle or Amazon, what do you remember about the covers? Did you even look at the cover again once you’d downloaded it?

On a train the other day, two friends were overheard discussing what they had read during Christmas. One could not remember the title or the author of one particular novel, though they gave a very compelling description of it which made both the other friend and this eavesdropper want to read it.

“Are you sure you can’t remember what it’s called?” the friend asked. “Tell me what the cover looks like and then I can look on the tables at Waterstones.”

“Oh,” replied the reader. “I don’t think I even saw the cover. I downloaded it to my Kindle.”

Those advising indie authors in the blogosphere frequently stress the importance of ‘professionally designed’ covers in marketing a book, suggesting indie authors compare theirs with those of high-selling print-published books in their genre, and there are both awards for good covers in the online indie community. Yet while it is very common that as readers we use the way a book looks to assess its genre, content, style and potential for quality, the conversation above implies that while this Continue reading