Totally factual Amazon Bio

I’ve never bothered adding a biography to my Amazon author page because I’m a tedious nobody with the charisma of a fake cactus covered in custard, and the numerous Amazon author biographies I’ve read seem to already have that niche covered.

“But you need an engaging bio!” shriek the knowledgeable booktubers, “or you’ll never have a bestseller like us.”

With no other option available, I made up some tragically misleading bullshit and used it as a bio. To save you the chore of single-clicking your way to my Amazon author page, here it is:

Before failing as a writer, John won a phenomenal amount of money on the UK national lottery, flew first-class to Vegas, bet it all on red and lost. He misguidedly believed this reckless act would give him a spectacular ice-breaker anecdote with which to regale party guests, but nobody ever invites him to parties and he’s too antisocial to host his own.

John started reading as soon as he could read, which hardly puts him in an exclusive club. He started writing novels thirty-five years later, but didn’t write anything remotely entertaining for at least another ten. For John, ‘entertaining’ is the crucial word, whether he’s writing fiction, such as this biography, or non-fiction, such as his actual autobiography ‘Arcadelife – Life versus Video Games’.

John lives in a small room full of Stephen King’s old typewriters, surrounded by walls covered in hardcopy screen images taken from writing-tip videos on YouTube. He’d like you to read at least one sample of one of his books, but he knows your time is precious and there’s probably a new Jack Reacher coming out soon.

Writing tips for the madden arthur

I’m here to help, seriously. While I’m excluded from the madden arthur gang (you all know I mean modern author, right?), I’m still more than happy to offer these exclusive tips for success and happiness. Hey ho, let’s start…

The colour of your protagonist’s eyes is of vital importance; be sure to mention it at least twice during their first scene.

Characters need to smirk frequently in order to gain your readers’ empathy.

Watching YouTube videos about writing will turn your lacklustre manuscript into an entertaining novel.

Avoid being genuinely honest with yourself about your writing, or you might have to go back and waste time rewriting entire sentences.

‘Character agency’ means telling the reader your protagonist is really upset and unsure about the ‘big problem’ they are going to have to overcome.

Build tension for at least a chapter before introducing a rich, attractive, but overtly arrogant character who offers a largely coincidental solution to your protagonist’s problem.

Rather than writing an exciting story, concentrate on the precise timing of the ‘inciting incident’.

Focus on convincing yourself that your debut novel is going to be awesome; this is significantly easier than writing a decent novel.

Build a friendly network with aspiring writers and YouTubers who will be happy to provide you with positive back-cover quotes for your lacklustre debut novel.

‘Write what you know’, including a diverse cast of characters from every race, religion, and sexual orientation.

Have your protagonist swear frequently, as this is the best way to show they are strong, independent, witty and dynamic.

Spending countless hours reading hundreds of books, across many genres, is a waste of your time. The same result can be achieved by watching YouTubers talking about the books they’ve read.

When posting frequently on social media about your writing progress, always use cool ‘madden arthur’ abbreviations such as MC for Main Character and MS for Manuscript.

As soon as possible, start referring to your book title by its initial letters. This will create the impression that you are not just another clueless muppet with a keyboard, churning out sentences like ‘Suddenly she felt a tsunami of terror flooding through her veins’.

As soon as you’ve written a few thousand words, or given your MC a cool name and the unique character trait of saying ‘fuck’ all the time, go onto Teespring and create a whole bunch of that sweet merch.

Always include trigger warnings for your book. You don’t want someone to buy it, read it, and have an emotional reaction to it.

And, finally…

Instead of doing a time-consuming search-and-replace for filler words such as ‘just’, ‘that was’, and ‘literally’, simply delete your whole manuscript.

Not my style – even more writing tips

First of all, try getting your head around this radical concept: instead of giving “writing advice” or spending time running a YouTube author channel (I don’t have the looks or the vocal-fry voice for it), I decided to try something practical instead, and I decided to publish it on here, no matter how it turned out.

I’m not going to advise you, or anyone else, to try this, but I honestly believe it’s a good way to potentially achieve a number of goals. It could get you past a period of writer’s block, if you’re stuck in the middle of a particular draft. It could start you along the road to a totally different writing destination. It could improve your overall standard of writing. Note – a lot of ‘could’ in all of that.

What am I going to do? Easy, I’m going to write something I don’t particularly want to write, in a style which I would never normally consider using.

I’m not into wolf stories, fairy-tales, fairy-tale parodies, flowery descriptions of, well, anything, and I don’t like the trope of a super-cool, badass (magical or mundane) young woman kicking everything’s ass. I know I wrote a couple of vampire books where there’s a super-cool badass woman kicking everything’s ass, but I had to get that out of my system. Also, she wasn’t young. Also, I really like Buffy so I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

And so I end up here, telling myself I have to write a few chapters about a super-cool, badass young woman kicking everything’s ass. And it has to feel like a fairy-tale parody, with flowery descriptions and wolves. I hate myself already. Brace yourselves, we’re going in…

THIS IS WHERE IT STARTS, IF YOU SKIPPED PAST MY LAME DISCLAIMERS

Night air hissed by, given a sibilant voice by his passing, the sensation akin to hurled handfuls of dusted ice cleaved by his hurtling body. Frigid nocturnal fingers grasped at the slicked-down slate-grey mane, caressing flexing, corded muscles as they rippled in time with the relentless, rhythmic pounding of his fore-legs.

Wide, unblinking eyes, blacker than the emptiest night sky, focussed ahead, locking on each trace of the spoor no matter how insignificant. A crimson smear on a broken stalk of grass. A perfect ruby dewdrop, no larger than a pinhead, clinging to a leaf still trembling with the aftershock of the prey’s urgent, panic-stricken flight.

The scent of terror hung in the air, an intoxicating fragrance of fear without hope, of one who knows the inevitability of its own destruction.

Massive, clawed paws crushed and scattered the detritus of the forest floor. Needles, cones, loose twigs, and the stinking black mulch lying beneath it all.

Ahead, a glimpse of movement. A dark shape, small and furtive. The prey. The rush of excitement heralding the kill spurred him to even greater speed, barrelling through the underbrush towards his target.

When the huge wolf leaped from the cloying dark of the forest into the moonlit clearing, the girl staggered backwards against the unforgiving bark of an ancient, towering tree.

The wolf landed on all four paws, halting no more than a handful of yards from the cowering prey. It stared down at the girl, taking in everything it saw, hesitating as it savoured the moment when it would deliver the final strike, jaws-wide.

The girl swept her black cloak aside, held up the impaled, twitching body of a young hare. The creature’s front legs jerked uselessly, scrabbling at nothing. The girl’s eyes were bright, clear, no fear in them. Her mouth was set in an indifferent, humourless grin. No scent of terror about her.

Blood dripped steadily from the dying hare to the curved fronds of a fern, ticking in the still of the clearing, ticking like a handmade grandfather clock.

The girl stroked the hare’s ears back, close to its head, hushed it as if calming a babe. She tenderly clasped the skull and twisted. There was a crack of tiny bones, and the hare dangled limp from her hand.

“Your Pappy never tell you not to chase really obvious blood trails, Mister Wolf?” the girl said. She tilted her head to one side. “Oh, but how could he, being all that time dead?”

The wolf had a voice. Not human, yet not entirely brutish. He raised a huge paw, his whole body trembling with anticipation as he studied the girl by the light of the moon.

“I know you.”

“You all know me.” She stepped away from the tree trunk, dropping the dead hare and shedding the cloak to reveal another beneath. A closer fit this one, dark red, the burgundy of drying blood beneath a winter sunset. The hare’s broken carcass lay in the decaying blackness of crushed leaves, needles and rotted moss, but the girl’s hands were not empty.

The wolf saw the knife in the girl’s left hand. No glimmer of a moonlit reflection, the blade forged dull by design. He didn’t yet take a step closer to her, tasting a fresh scent in the air.

“Silver,” the wolf said.

“Goes in nice and slick, slippety-slip, but the bleeding just doesn’t quit. Not even for big ones like you.”

“You can’t stop me with that.”

“Come a little closer.”

The wolf started to circle the girl. Still no scent of fear. He did not know why, and it bothered him.

“All of your kind,” the wolf said, “your time in this place is done.”

The girl’s right hand flicked beneath the cloak for a moment, returning with a new weapon. Shotgun. Black. Pistol grip and sawn-off triple barrels. Two under, one over, with a selector switch set to fire all three barrels on one pull of the single trigger. She raised her arm, aimed the gun at the wolf’s gigantic head.

“How many times have I heard that, Mister Wolf?”

The wolf glared, loops of drool hanging from its jowls between jagged, nine-inch fangs. The bunched muscles of its haunches rippled as it prepared to pounce on the girl, to tear into her with tooth and claw.

“You have no respect for the rightful owners of this land,” the wolf said.

The girl shook her head, dark humour curling her mouth into a sadistic leer.

“Fuck rightful.”

The wolf leaped at the girl, jaws wider than the span of her arms packed with gleaming, bone-white blades.

She pulled the trigger. All three barrels at once.

THERE YOU GO. THAT WAS CHAPTER ONE. 

I enjoyed writing that a heck of a lot more than I wanted to, definitely more than I want to admit. If you liked it, maybe I’m getting everything else wrong and I should ditch my own style and go full…whatever that was.

Maybe.

The ‘show, don’t tell’ conundrum

I felt prompted to write this following the varied responses to something I posted on a Facebook authors’ group. Varied and just a little bit misinformed. Okay, there were some raging opinion-wielders but it’s Facebook so what did I expect?

If you’re an author, you will almost certainly be aware of the advice “show, don’t tell” (I hesitate to even hint it’s a ‘golden rule’ because of the raging opinion-wielders pedantically pointing out fatal errors wherever they want to see them).

Couple of obvious pointers, which are not obvious enough for some people: “show, don’t tell” does NOT mean “write long descriptions of everything” or “always try to show, never try to tell” or “follow this rule to the exclusion of any other rule, or even common sense”. And, most importantly and most often misinterpreted, “show, don’t tell” is not purely about describing what something looks like.

Now, the more pedantic and impatient opinion-wielder will want to ask this: Fine, smarty-pants, so what DOES “show, don’t tell” mean?

Easy. It means don’t bore the hell out of your readers, give them something to think about. It means don’t write “The king was evil” when what the reader needs to read is “The king liked to roast kittens for fun and drown miscreants in their own blood, even if all they had done was forget to salute his huge, obsidian statue seventy-five times each day.” It means be entertaining with your writing. Entertainment is key.

We can play around with some more examples, like this:

Sarah was happy.

That’s telling, not showing. Let’s give it some context.

Fred gave Sarah a bunch of roses. Sarah was happy because she appreciated the romantic significance of the unexpected gift.

That’s still telling.

Okay, smarty-pants, how else could you write it?

How about like this:

Sarah stared at the bunch of roses Fred was holding.
“For me?” she asked, clasping her hands to her chest. Her face lit up with a radiant smile. “They’re, oh, they’re just delightful.”

Pure gut-wrenching drivel, granted, but that’s showing rather than telling, and it gets a response from the reader. In this case, projectile vomiting.

In its most extreme form, telling becomes the infamous infodump. This is where the author wants to impart information they believe to be essential – usually the colour of a character’s eyes (green, generally) – but can’t figure out how to work it into the story so they just tell the reader about it.

Sarah looked in the mirror and saw a tall woman of twenty-three with long, frizzy blonde hair and emerald eyes.

That’s telling. Obviously. And a really painful way to describe your character.

First of all, nobody cares about the colour of a character’s eyes or the length of their hair. You generally see these descriptions somewhere in the first chapter and then never mentioned again. Unless a particular feature is essential to the plot, such as in a case of mistaken identity.

But I love how Sarah looks, protests the adamant author. It’s a huge part of who she is. I have to tell my readers what Sarah looks like.

Okay. Try this.

“You know you look like a cat, right?” Fred said.
“How dare you!” Sarah replied, gasping in horror.
“I mean your eyes, dummy. They’re green, like a big, cute, sexy cat.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you to notice. What do you think of my hair?”
“Looks like a Barbie doll fell in a cement mixer.”
“Aw, that’s exactly the look I was going for.”

And right there you get the description across, plus some insights into the two characters and their relationship. There are other ways to do the same thing, you just have to think like an entertainer rather than an estate agent.

Try this. It’s a tricky one:

Sarah opened the door.

That’s telling, not showing. Okay, but what if Sarah has been locked in the cellar for twenty years, without daylight? Or how about if Sarah is outside the main entrance of the castle belonging to that evil king? Or playing with a doll’s house? Or about to unwittingly open the front door to a serial killer?

Guess what – writing ‘Sarah opened the door’ would be fine in each of those cases. Adding an adverb would not improve it. Bloating it with descriptions would not improve it. But, and this is kind of important, it could be written differently because that’s up to the author and how they want the reader to feel when they read it.

No more examples, I’m sure that’s enough from me on the subject. I really need to get back to finishing the sequel to Cold Inside. Optimistically, it should be ready in the first quarter of 2019. I’ll post some more information on here as soon as I’ve got something definite to announce.

Self-publishing is killing self-publishing

Self-publishing. It’s being ruined by the very people who should be supporting it and doing everything in their power to make it great. I’m talking about all the self-published authors who are happy to release books littered with bad grammar, poor punctuation, clichés, repetition, clunky sentences and a total lack of any sign that proofreading or editing has taken place.

Their books get slammed by reviewers on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., and the widespread negativity towards all self-published books, not just the legitimately bad ones, grows exponentially.

Nobody ever posts a review on Amazon to compliment an author on good spelling or punctuation because those things are expected, and should be taken for granted by a reader. Because of that, those things should be prioritised by self-published authors, not forgotten or ignored.

No reader wants to have to struggle with interpreting the meaning of a sentence because it is poorly written. Just think about that for a few seconds. Now go pick a self-published book at random on Amazon and check out the ‘Look Inside’ sample. If that sample is a load of unedited garbage, the whole book is guaranteed to be.

No reader wants their immersion in a book to be derailed by bad punctuation, missing words (or duplicated words), and the countless other mistakes that too many self-published authors don’t even bother trying to correct before rushing their novel out into the world.

The attitude is obvious: they have written their book and they want it published NOW. It took them six months, or six years, or a whole weekend to write, so they believe that they have done all the hard work and now they want the reward to which they are entitled: they want to see their book published and for sale.

If you venture onto a Facebook author group or some other  forum where self-published authors congregate to help each other decide which badly Photoshopped cover to use, or which stilted, purple-prose blurb to choose, you must never, ever tell any of them that the books they have published need a bit of editing as they’re not in a fit state to have been published. Try this, and you will be either ignored or lambasted as some kind of fascist killjoy who lives only to belittle the stalwart efforts of the self-published community.

Sorry, but every unedited, mistake-laden self-published book that gets released contributes to the growing negative attitude of readers to self-published books. That’s a fact. I don’t care if it’s not a popular fact, it’s still a fact. There are lots of potential readers out there who will never go near one of my self-published books because they have already suffered too much at the hands of impatient self-published authors who were only interested in writing something and publishing it, and not at all interested in writing something, checking it, asking one or two other people to check it, and doing everything they could possibly do to make it the best that it could be.

It’s your book. You wrote it. You have to care about it being genuinely ready for publication, because nobody else will.

I’m not talking about boring stories, copy-paste characters, illogical plots, or sub-literate rambling bollocks masquerading as science fiction. I’m talking about actually caring about the quality of your finished product at a fundamental level. Because a hell of a lot of you clearly don’t care, and don’t want to hear about it from your peers.

“I sell plenty of books,” is one of their standard, brush-off replies when told that their books need to be proofread and edited before publication. Yes, I’m sure you do sell books. But then the people who bought your books will read them, see that you can’t even string a coherent sentence together, or understand the basics of punctuation, and the self-publishing negativity grows a little bit more.

I probably put more effort into checking and editing this rant than a lot of self-published authors put into editing and proofreading their own books.

I certainly put a hell of a lot more effort into editing and proofreading my own books.

And yet, some mistakes do slip through. I accept that, and I’m more than happy to not only admit it, but to applaud and thank anyone who spots something wrong in one of my books and lets me know about it. If I missed it, and my test-readers missed it, then whoever finds these mistakes deserves that applause and thanks.

If you’re a self-published author and you put as much effort, or more, into editing as you put into writing your books, then you have my gratitude and my congratulations. All you need to worry about are the same things I’m ranting about in this post.

If you’re a self-published author, and you read this post and thought ,”Ah, screw him, he thinks he’s some sort of grand-master punctuation expert who can lecture me on how I write…” I think we all know what I think of you and your rushed, ill-considered publications.

Have a great day. Do some editing. It won’t kill you.

Branded (more writing tips & opinion)

Your protagonist has a phone. Heck, yeah, we all have phones. But your protagonist only needs “a phone”.

Cody reached into his pocket and pulled out his Samsung Uberphone ZX81 and…

No, no, no. And no. It’s a phone. Your reader will imagine it to be whatever phone they want it to be. But not if you tell them the make and model. They could even begin to despise the character because of the phone he or she is using, but mostly they just won’t care.

The same goes for tablets or e-readers. Either don’t mention the damn things or just mention in passing that Cindy was reading. Does it really matter to your story or plot whether Cindy was reading a paperback or on a Kindle? No, it doesn’t. Unless she’s being stalked by the Kindle Killer, in which case it’s essential that we know (or at least suspect) that she is reading on a Kindle.

But 99.9% of the time we do not need to know what make or model of electronic device a character in a book is using.