Sunday, 30 January 2011

Interview with Lexi Revellian

One red hot topic on writers’ boards at the moment is e-publishing, and there’s no doubt with the growth in sales of the Amazon Kindle that e-books are here to stay.

One person who decided to ride the wave and publish her book on Amazon Kindle is debut author Lexi Revellian. Since the launch of Remix in August 2010 it has gone on to have huge success, with over 12 thousand sales to date and is currently at number 15 in the Kindle Bestseller Chart.

Lexi, welcome to my blog and congratulations on the success of Remix. When did you start writing? I mean, has it been a life-long hobby, or relatively recent?

I was always an avid reader – throughout my childhood adults were telling me to stop reading – but I started writing late, doubting I’d be as good as my favourite authors. I kept a journal on and off for years. In 2006 my daughter suggested we write a book together; once I started I couldn’t stop.

How many novels have you written to date? (I'm wondering how many books it has taken for you to reach this stage.)

Remix is my third. I wrote two untypical fantasy novels, the kind that appealed to readers who don’t like fantasy. My characters talk and joke like real people, and the fantasy element was limited to the presence of dragons. These books are entertaining, but too non-genre specific to be mainstream publishable, I think. At the moment, I send the PDFs free to anyone who emails me for them. Quite a lot do.

Can you tell me what inspired you to write Remix? Was it based on your own experiences or a real life story you heard?

I started with a ‘what if?’ What if a young woman found a stranger asleep on her rooftop terrace? Who was he, what would happen next? And I used London as a background, because I like novels with identifiable settings. You can trace most of the places in the book on Google Street View.

I wanted to write something publishable; a feel-good novel as much of a page turner as an early Dick Francis, with a first person narrator so the reader made discoveries only as she did. Ironically, turned out I’d written another non-genre specific book. Amazon has it under Romance, Waterstones under Crime. It’s not really either.

Which authors would you say have had the most influence on you?

Mary Renault – every time I reread one of her novels, she rises in my estimation. I’ve picked up her semi colons. And Jane Austen is a genius; you’d recognize one of her characters instantly if he or she walked in the room. Dick Francis for un-put-downableness.

Can you outline the process of publishing on Kindle? And how have you found it dealing with Amazon?

Publishing to Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is straightforward if you can follow instructions and are painstaking. There’s a lot of help on the internet. I blogged about how I did it here: How to publish for Kindle on Amazon. Amazon’s Author Central is very helpful. I’m hugely grateful to Amazon for giving me this unique opportunity to sell my writing – not a level playing field, but the best we’re going to get.

What marketing have you done to promote Remix? How can you account for the phenomenal sales it has achieved?

I launched Remix in August 2010, and didn’t sell many books for two or three months. As I write the total is more than 12,200 for ebook sales, including over 5,500 in January. The paperback sales are modest, probably under a hundred, but I haven’t totted them up.

In all forms of publishing you need luck, and I’ve been lucky self-publishing. (Maybe I was owed it – I was unlucky no agent picked Remix up. Possibly so were they…) I was the first author to join KUF, the Kindle Users Forum, and Remix was selected as October’s book of the month. I pop into the Kindle forums sometimes, with a link to my book under my signature. I’ve appeared on several review blogs. No doubt I should do more. I had excellent advice from Eric Christopherson, author of Crack-Up. He told me about the importance of getting the price right.

Amazon rewards success; your book pops up all over the site once it’s selling well. And I know from Google Alerts that strangers are talking about Remix and recommending it. In a small way, it’s gone viral.

And Remix is also available as a paperback. Can you tell me who you publish with and summarise how you went about that?

I published with Lightning Source, because I wanted full control and my own micro press, Hoxton Press. It’s not for everyone, because there’s a lot you have to learn, and LS don’t want to spoon feed you. Luckily, I love formatting, and I’m obsessive about detail. Comes of being a jeweller.

What has been the best aspect of being published? Have there been any unexpected benefits or pitfalls?

The best aspect is the readers. I love the fact that people are reading my book and enjoying it, and even bothering to write reviews or email me about it. A book isn’t complete until it is read. I can’t express how great it is when a reader really gets the book the way it was written.

I am also making a surprising amount of money. I haven’t come across a downside yet.

Do you have any tips for other debut authors thinking of publishing this way?

Make sure your book is the best it can possibly be. Use beta readers, and pay attention to what they say. If your spelling, punctuation and grammar is unreliable, pay a proof reader. I don’t use an editor or proof reader, but I use Autocrit to deal with my word echo problem. Make sure your formatting is perfect; check every single page when you load to KDP.

How important do you think the internet is for authors these days? Do you think having a blog and website and networking on Twitter/Facebook etc are necessary?

I have a website and a blog and I’ve noticed recently I’ve had many more visits from people looking up Lexi Revellian or Remix. I also tweet, but don’t think that has helped my sales. It’s more for keeping in touch with what’s going on in publishing. Facebook I just can’t face – I’ve had two tries, and turned shuddering away each time.

Do you plan to publish again on Kindle? If so, can you tell me something about your next project?

I’m three-quarters through the next book, currently called Unofficial Girl. Beth Chandler works in a government research institute, and is duplicated in a flawed experiment. The replica goes on the run with just what she stands up in, while the original Beth, unaware, continues with her life. Alternating chapters tell their stories. There’s a morally ambivalent spec op, Nick Cavanagh, who becomes involved with Beth One, while pursuing Beth Two.

When it’s finished, I hope this spring, I’ll put it on Amazon. I’ll also try a few agents, to see if they make me an offer I can’t refuse…

You can find out more about Lexi's journey to self-publish on Amazon Kindle at her blog here.

Putting the Vision in Revision

I'm now on chapter four and getting the hang of it. The thing I love about this stage is being able to slash and burn with such abandon. I've got the first draft saved separately so anything I change my mind about can be instantly reinstated, but at this point I'm not too worried about the odd phrase or perfect paragraph. That's for the final polish. At this point I have to revisit the vision I had for this story and see if it needs changing.

What that means is, should I introduce a character sooner, remove scenes that slow things down, add a bit of backstory here, that sort of thing. I'm trying to step back from the line by line involvement with the story and see it as a whole. I'm really getting into the main character's head, seeing the world through his eyes, feeling what he feels. It's exciting because after the daily grind of getting the first draft down this is the first time I feel in complete control of the material. I'm seeing it objectively while living the story subjectively. Does that make sense?

Of course this won't be the end of the process. I've already decided the beginning will need radical work on the next revision, but at this point I want to get through the whole story without going back. It goes in fits and starts. Sometimes I feel inspired and write pages of new material, other times I have to leave it for a few hours to mull things over.

But the main thing is I am enjoying it. Phew.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

It has begun...

You remember all that fuss about Nanowrimo last November? (Gosh, was that really two months ago???) Well at the end of it you'll recall I had a "finished" first draft of my mystery thriller Redemption. I put finished in inverted commas because I have started my much-put-off revision this week and to call it anything resembling finished is an insult to Finnish people. Never mind the odd snip here and there, this is going to be root and branch hacking, folks.

So my eyes are not so much watering as bleeding. You may well hear some gnashing of teeth and sobbing from this blog in the next few weeks for which I sincerely apologise, but please bear with me. It's at times like this I wish I'd taken up embroidery instead...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Just stopping by to mention that my article on tapping into creativity is published in this month's issue of Inkspill Magazine.
The article is based on a blog post I did here a few months ago. If anyone wants to read it you can buy a lovely glossy printed copy here.

Or you can get a free download here.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Fact v. Fiction

Should fiction writers take liberties with historical facts?

This is a hobby horse of mine, possibly because I love history. There is nothing more satisfying than discovering someone's story among the obscure historical details. And the stories of our past are as heroic, dramatic and thrilling as any fiction.

So it does bug me when someone comes along and tries to rewrite history to make it more palatable or interesting. Airbrushing out the warts and flaws takes away the realness of the situation. Maybe a young swarthy King Henry VIII makes better eye candy, but the fact is by the time he married his fifth wife he was a prematurely aged, overweight, diseased wreck of his youthful self. He bore about as much resemblance to his characterisation in The Tudors as my dog does a porcupine.

One of the biggest hit movies of all time, Titanic, was ruined for me by the fictionalised story at its centre. Read anything about the victims of that disaster and you will discover a wealth of real heart wrenching personal tragedies which deserved to be told. But no. Instead we get a completely made up lot of nonsense about two fictional characters played by Leo de Caprio and Kate Winslet. Nice eye candy, but I'd have preferred a bit of truth.

Because it's truth that brings a story to life. The real conflict happens under the surface, and that's what ultimately draws people in. We want to see how others have suffered and struggled, won or lost.

I recently revisited one of my favourite films, Downfall. This two and a half hour romp through the last days of Hitler as Berlin falls to the Russians is about as gripping as any film ever made. It has no swarthy, sexy airbrushed characters. It has no silly made up love stories. It is bleakly, unrelentingly honest about the terrible situation faced by the people in dire circumstances. But it is that truth that grips us.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Parodies Lost

Feel like a laugh? I have joined with a group of online friends to launch a new blog called Parodies Lost in which we post parodies of the Classics. I already posted my first attempt, a reworking of James Bond in the style of Cormac McCarthy. Please take a look if you have a minute, and we welcome any comments.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Why Was I Rejected?

One topic that comes up a lot on writers' boards is what to do if your manuscript is rejected. Should you keep working on it and try again or give up and start something new?

I've been in this position myself so I know how frustrating it is to get form rejections. At first they might be worded so nicely you think they are saying something good about your writing, but in time you come to realise they don't mean anything much other than the fact that the agent/editor doesn't want your book. Agents/editors don't generally give feedback because it's too time consuming and often people react badly to criticism. So always assume it's a form rejection unless it mentions specific details about your book.

If you are blessed with a personal letter - and I use the word advisedly because you should always bear in mind that no one owes you anything at this point so they're doing you a huge favour by taking the trouble - it may address possible areas that need improvement. This kind of feedback is like gold dust. Professionals working in the industry know what a book needs to get accepted and published, so you should take their advice very seriously. Of course, you may not agree with it, that is your right. After all, it is your book and only you can decide how you want the finished product to look. But if you want to reach a wider audience than your family, friends and critique group you would be wise to at least consider their opinion.

But what if you get no advice? That's a tough one because there are so many possible reasons for a book to be rejected. Unless someone tells you specifically what the problem is you could be wasting your time and energy on rewrites. Here are some possibilities:

1. The writing isn't good enough
This is the main one. You need to ask yourself some tough questions. Why do you think you can write a novel? Have you ever had any acclaim or praise for your writing from anyone other than your mother? If you're writing in isolation and not showing your work to anyone you can easily fall into the trap of thinking it's great when it isn't. It is painful to face criticism but if you want to go the whole distance and see your work in a bookshop, you have to get used to others critiquing your work.

There are different approaches to this. Joining a writers' group is a good start. You will get free feedback from like minded authors as well as learning a lot about self-criticism by critiquing their work. I've been a member of a few online groups. They also help you network and learn about the industry and perfect your synopsis and query letter. You will make some good online friends that way, which gives you a shoulder to cry on in tough times.
You can also pay for a critique from an editorial consultancy. These don't come cheap so you need to do some research before forking out for one.

Learning to take criticism is basic to being a professional author. Even if every agent and editor loved your book you can bet there will be some armchair critic out there dying to give you a one star review on Amazon, and some of these reviews are eye-wateringly vicious.

If this is your first attempt at a novel the chances are it just isn't good enough. First novels rarely get published because they are the ones we make all our basic mistakes on in the process of learning the craft. Most published authors have a few duds under their mattress. So you need to ask yourself how attached you are to this particular book, whether you want to spend a year or more reworking it or whether you'd prefer to start on something new. Remember it's never a waste though. You have cut your author's teeth on that book and everything you write from now on will be that much better.

2. The Concept is not good enough
Is your story original? Different? Intriguing? Or is it a thinly veiled rehash of a Bonanza episode you once saw? Have you researched what is being published in your genre? Is your book sufficiently similar but with an unexpected twist to capture the reader's imagination?
One of the toughest lessons to learn is no one really cares how well you can write. If you can't hook them with a great story they'll buy something else that does.

3. You are writing the wrong genre
What do you love to read? If it's romance, then why are you trying to write children's fiction? You should be writing what you love to read. And don't fall into the trap of thinking anyone can write a children's book/Dan Brown-type thriller/blood-and-guts horror story. You must know your genre like the back of your hand and then you must write something even better than the ones you love to read. It's not enough to be 'as good as'. There is already a Stephen King in the world so why would anyone want another one?

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Ego Has Landed

I've blogged about ego before. It's a vexed question, how much free rein one should give the old ego. Because we all have one, or we wouldn't be able to function. We'd never have the self belief to write a story and the pig-headed determination to go through the painful process of trying to get published. A healthy self-regard is essential to survive the crushing criticism and rejection of a writer's life.

Perhaps it's because we spend so much time alone, creating (and being the Master of) our own little universe, it is so easy to let that Ego inflate itself into a major handicap rather than a necessary tool. Sitting in our little garrets, pouring our precious prose onto the page with no one to question or challenge our ideas and choices, we begin to believe that we are the centre of the real universe as well as our fictional one. Think of all those Evil Genius antagonists in Bond and Batman films, full of their own importance, issuing pompous speeches and barking orders at their obsequious lackeys. That's what happens to your Ego after a while.

Ego's worst enemy is Other People, although he craves their adoration and obedience more than anything. Sure, it's wonderful to be the boss of your fictional world, but real people make much better slaves. So when they behave like real people and have the temerity to challenge him, he goes berserk. Any disagreement is a threat to his absolute authority and cannot be tolerated. He begins to act exactly like the Bond villain and either argues to the point of lunacy, refusing to let the matter drop, or else flounces off and sulks in his garret, still shouting insults from afar. It's pitiful to watch because Ego can't see what an ass he's being. Unfortunately everyone else can.

But the saddest part is the harm Ego does to ourselves. He won't let us change, because he always knows best. He won't accept advice, he thinks everyone who disagrees with him is a fool or misguided and he won't let us learn anything new. So we stagnate. But all the while he keeps telling us it is the Rest of the World that's wrong and him that's right.

Ego makes us brittle where it would serve us better to be fluid. Nothing in life is ever fixed; everything is constantly changing, including ourselves. If Ego stops us from adapting to new circumstances, he becomes a handicap instead of a help.

So beware that old Ego and his delusions of grandeur. He's always there, lurking, telling you how great you are. Just remember what a Bond villain he can be if he goes unchecked and keep him in his place.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Me New Telly

I'm noticing with advancing years a certain resistance to change. This is new to me. In my youth I embraced anything new with unseemly abandon, but these days I view the acquisition of new technology with a jaundiced weariness.

Why does this happen? Maybe it's because we have gone through so many disappointments over the years, the prospect of getting our hopes up over the latest gismo is too much to bear. But like it not we all have to move with the times get with it sooner or later.

Me telly's been very reliable. Can't remember when we bought it exactly but it must be ten years at least, and it has served us well in that time. But lately the colour's been fading, and with a square screen it's the wrong shape for most films which are always in letterbox format. You end up with an unfocused background shot and two anonymous actors chopped off either side of the screen. So Mr P and I trotted along to the sales to see what else was on offer.

Hasn't technology moved on in 10+ years? Walking into Comet you're faced with a wall of flat screens, wafer thin and sharp as a pin. After much humming and hawing we plumped for the Sony 40", on at practically half price. They even threw in delivery. Not bad.
It arrived yesterday and was remarkably simple to set up. We celebrated by watching Burn After Reading, a Coen Brothers' comedy with George Clooney and Brad Pitt. My darkened living room felt just like the movies. I've a feeling I'll be doing a lot more tv viewing from now on.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Just noticed my followers have bumped up to a massively intimidating 47! Thanks folks, I appreciate it although it does mean I'm going to have to write interesting stuff instead of the usual incoherent drivel.

This self promotion lark is a rum business and no mistake. What with Twitter and Facebook and my website, not to mention all the writers' forums I lurk on it's a miracle I ever get five minutes of real writing done. Maybe I should take on a secretary just to do my tweets? Or I could cut down on the housework, although I'm not sure how I could shave off any more time from my annual dust. Suggestions please, all you vastly more experienced surfers out there.

Here are some interesting links for you. I have posted them elsewhere but you might have missed them.

SF and Fantasy authors might be interested in knowing publisher Angry Robot are having an unagented submissions month in March 2011. Full details here.

Zeno Agency are currently open for submissions (only temporarily so don't hang about). Please read what they are looking for here.

Literary Agents Tibor Jones have announced the Pageturner Prize for unpublished authors. Attach your full manuscript with a blurb about the book in the body of your email. Full details here.

Oh, and by the way, my reprobate alter ego, publisher Edie Tor is back in business. Read her blog here.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Recharging the Batteries

Started back at my WIP this week after a fortnight's break over the holidays. I think that's the longest break I've ever taken in - how long would it be? Three years? It felt a bit odd but I wanted to see what difference - if any - it made.

One thing I noticed was a certain nervousness as the time to restart approached. When I'm in the middle of writing a first draft I don't look back at it, I just press on to the finish. But having to pick up the threads again I knew I'd have to reread some of it, and that was making me anxious. What if it was awful? Before Christmas I was feeling a bit burned out and jaded with the story anyway. You know the stage you reach when you're questioning the validity of everything from the original premise to the colour of the protagonist's underwear? So I opened the file with trepidation. What if, on second glance, it really was a pile of doggy do?

But I'm delighted to report I didn't think that at all, in fact quite the reverse. It was better than I remember! Sorry if that sounds smug but to be honest it's more of a relief than anything. Once I got started again I've been rattling the keyboard like the house is burning down. I really feel recharged and full of new ideas, so the break has certainly worked. Must go and get back to it now. Toodle -ooo!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

When Characters Misbehave

Do you plot?

All the books on plotting make it seem so simple. You need a beginning, a middle and an end and various plot twists along the way and Bob's Your Uncle there's a template to follow. If only it were that easy.

The trouble is getting my characters to comply. I can spend months meticulously researching and planning and when I'm finally ready for the off I make the fundamental mistake of casting a bunch of bolshie prima donnas who proceed to flounce up and down, trampling my exquisitely crafted plot into the carpet. They have their own ideas about what to do and say and no amount of jumping up and down on my part will convince them otherwise. I'm all for democracy, but surely I'm the author and they should at least pretend to take some notice of what I expect from them?

I've tried several ways around this problem. In a recent project the lead was relegated to being a supporting character, in another a bit part was promoted to antagonist. But it all involves massive rewrites. Perhaps the fault is mine. Am I casting the wrong characters from the get go, or has word got round that I'm a soft touch and will tolerate them all sitting around bitching about me in chapter three? It's probably the latter because I confess I have a soft spot for my characters and am not nearly firm enough with them. That's the trouble with spending too much time alone with fictional characters - they run rings round you.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year Resolutions

I don't usually do resolutions, but come to think of it maybe that's what's been missing in my life all these years. So here's my list for 2011:

1. I will henceforth make New Year Resolutions.
2. I will spend less time online and blog about it regularly.
3. I will stop hanging up on cold callers, but instead quiz them about their odd choice of career and urge them to take a new direction in life.
4. I will attempt to follow everyone in the civilised world on Twitter.
5. I will start a forum for people like me who hate forums.
6. I will start watching Doctor Who in an attempt to be more normal.
7. I will stop singing Bavarian drinking songs in the bath and frightening the dog.
8. I will stop pretending Facebook is a research tool.